The Licking Heights High School football team can end years of frustration and come closer to achieving its goals with a landmark win Friday, Oct. 12, against West Jefferson.
The Hornets, who will leave the MSL-Cardinal Division at the end of this school year for the Licking County League, have never defeated the Roughriders.
"We wanted to accomplish three things this season," coach Darren Waters said. "First, we wanted to win our first (league) championship since 1992. We also wanted to make the playoffs. Third, we wanted to beat West Jefferson for the first time.
"Well, maybe we can pretty much accomplish all three that night. Everyone knows the league championship almost always goes through West Jeff. If we beat them, we should have a good shot at making the playoffs."
Licking Heights was 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the league before playing Millersport on Oct. 5. The Hornets close the regular season with games Oct. 19 at Berne Union and Oct. 26 against visiting Fisher Catholic. Berne Union was winless through six weeks and Fisher Catholic was 1-5.
The Hornets, who beat defending league champion Grandview 34-7 on Sept. 28, jumped to No. 1 in the Division II, Region 7 computer rankings last week. The top eight in each region qualify for the postseason.
West Jefferson was 5-1 overall and 3-0 in league play before facing Harvest Prep on Oct. 5. The Roughriders were tied for the final playoff spot in Division V, Region 20.
"This is a typical West Jefferson team," Waters said. "They are very physical up front, they are very well coached and they make few mistakes.
"They are disciplined on defense and play their responsibilities well. On offense, their linemen get a hold on you and just move you."
West Jefferson is led by quarterback Seth Casto, running backs Jake Hatfield and Hayden Fulton and receiver Ryan Love. Early in the season, the Roughriders relied more on their passing game, but they have been trying to balance the attack the past few weeks.
"Their quarterback is a dual threat and a very good pocket passer," Waters said. "He does a good job within the pocket keeping his eyes downfield and he extends the play to get the ball to their receivers. Their running backs have good speed and they're shifty, and (Love) can go up and get the ball.
"Our defense has been very fundamental and has allowed few big plays. We'll need that same type of effort. Their backs do a good job finding seams and like to get to the edge."
Waters wasn't pleased with his team's execution against Grandview.
"Our special teams need to get better," he said. "We didn't execute well on offense. It doesn't matter what the score was or who our opponent is, we want to play to our ability, and we didn't do that."
Bailey comes up short at sectional
Andrew Bailey's prep golf career ended in heartbreaking fashion Oct. 2, as he missed a 12-foot putt for par on the second playoff hole during the Division I boys sectional at Granville Golf Course.
The top four teams and top four individuals not on a qualifying team advanced to the district tournament Tuesday, Oct. 9, at Apple Valley.
Bailey tied Thomas Worthington's Curtis Salmans for the fourth spot after both shot 77. Salmans made a 10-foot par putt on the first playoff hole to force the second playoff hole.
Salmans' tee shot was short of the green and Bailey's tee shot hit the green but spun off the front. Salmans then chipped to within two feet. Bailey's chip hit a ridge and checked up, leaving him a 12-foot putt.
"You just hate to see a season and a career end that way, but sometimes you just don't get a bounce or a roll," coach Todd Righter said. "You could see the heartbreak in his face."
The Hornets finished 11th (360) behind district-qualifiers Pickerington North (294), Upper Arlington (295), St. Charles (313) and Mount Vernon (316).
Individually, Granville's Nick Contini (73), Newark's Nick Shipley (74) and Gahanna's Alex Vegh (74) joined Salmans as district qualifiers.
Also scoring for Licking Heights were Dylan Colopy (89), John Kenney (92) and John Righter (102). Bailey and John Righter were the seniors on the team. Kenney, Colopy and Zach Marcum are juniors and expected to return.
Bailey was first-team all-league and Kenney made the second team. John Righter was honorable mention.
The Hornets finished third in the league behind champion Fisher Catholic and Liberty Union.
"I wish we would've done better, but I'm excited about coming back for a second year because I think we have a lot of things to build on," coach Righter said. "It was an enjoyable season and the kids worked hard."
Boys soccer team still seeking identity
With only one regular-season game remaining, the boys soccer team still is trying to find its way.
"We have kind of had an up-and-down season," first-year coach Zach Grubb said. "We have had some really promising moments that we follow with negative moments. One of our biggest issues is that we are still not playing as a team on a consistent basis.
"We are still trying to figure out who it is that we want to be and how we want to play. They know what it is that they need to do and how to do it, now we just need to put it all together on a daily basis."
The Hornets close the regular season Tuesday, Oct. 9, at Liberty Union. By then, they will know about their Division II district tournament draw, which is Sunday, Oct. 7.
Grubb said Denis Kaili, Mateo Olagbenro, Caleb Hilderbrand, Abdul Mohamud and Tinashe Mareya have played well on defense. However, Olagbenro has been battling injuries and Grubb hopes he will be at 100 percent for the postseason.
"In general our defense has been very strong," Grubb said. "However, we are still giving up cheap penalties and cheap goals. If we want to succeed in the (postseason), we need to focus better. We need to play as a team that is unselfish and committed to finishing the game. We also need to play smart, quick balls.
"We've had some guys step up and do well in leadership roles -- Denis Kaili, Tinashe Mareya and Tesfu Reda. The three of them continually motivate the other students, and they continue to work hard and be positive."