For one half, the Licking Heights High School football team proved it could play with a program it envisions to be one day.
But in the other half, the Hornets showed that they aren't there yet.
Licking Heights lost to host Marion-Franklin 46-14 in the first round of the Division II, Region 7 playoffs on Nov. 2 to finish 10-1 overall.
Marion-Franklin, which won the regional title last year before losing to eventual state champion Trotwood-Madison 47-44 in a state semifinal, improved to 10-1 and advanced to play Canal Winchester in a regional semifinal Nov. 9.
"They have their program at a place we want to get to. They've qualified for the playoffs nine straight seasons," coach Darren Waters said. "They've been regional champions twice and this could be a third. It was a nice gauge for us, to see where we are and what we have to do to get to that level. We obviously have a long way to go."
Seeded third in the region, Marion-Franklin led 12-0 in the second quarter before sophomore Kendall Bradley scored the first of his two touchdowns on a 43-yard run with 1 minute, 17 seconds left to cut the sixth-seeded Hornets' deficit to 12-6.
That's when Marion-Franklin quarterback Corry Benson began to take over the game, as he led the Red Devils on a touchdown capped by his 3-yard touchdown run to make it 20-6 with 20 seconds left in the first half.
"(Benson) is an outstanding athlete and he threw better than we saw him throw on film all year long," Waters said. "They also had a big offensive line. This was probably the first time all season we've not had a size advantage. But at halftime, we still felt pretty good even though we had just given up two scores in a matter of minutes. We've been a second-half team all season."
However, two fumbles by Licking Heights led to Marion-Franklin touchdowns in the third quarter and the Red Devils held a 40-6 lead entering the fourth quarter.
"When we fumbled to start the second half, we were cut and bleeding," Waters said. "They sensed it and came in for the kill."
Benson, who was the district Player of the Year last season, ran 15 times for 111 yards and four touchdowns and was 26-for-30 passing for 366 yards and two touchdowns. Joe Alverson (11 catches, 135 yards) and Darien Williams (7 catches, 114 yards) were Benson's primary receivers.
Bradley led Licking Heights' offense with 84 yards rushing on 10 carries and two touchdowns. His second score came on a 5-yard run with Marion-Franklin leading 46-6. Also for the Hornets, Josh Ausberry had 65 yards rushing on 10 carries.
"Our defense didn't get much help from our offense because we didn't sustain drives to keep their offensive athletes off the field," said Waters, whose team was making its third playoff appearance. "We dropped several passes in the flats and we didn't execute. We had a great season, a memorable season, but that doesn't mean we wanted to be one-and-done in the playoffs. We obviously didn't have a great first-round matchup. But if that's the team we want to be, we had to play them to see where we're at."
Girls team losing two key runners
The girls cross country team will be losing two of its top seven runners in seniors Briana Konich and PyLynne Myers.
Konich finished 75th in 21:46.1 in the Division II regional meet Oct. 27 at Pickerington North, as the top 16 individuals advanced to state Nov. 3 at National Trail Raceway. London's Sarra Taylor won the regional title in 18:50.55 and Granville's Alyssa Atkinson (19:41.11) secured the final state-qualifying spot.
Konich was the Hornet's lone regional qualifier. She finished 15th (21:20.45) in the 23-team district meet Oct. 20 at Watkins Memorial, as the top four teams and top 16 individuals advanced to regional.
Licking Heights finished 13th (279) behind champion Granville (41), as Bexley (109), Caledonia River Valley (115) and London (147) also advanced to regional.
Also competing at district for the Hornets were Myers (61st, 24:04.18), sophomore MacKenzie Myers (72nd, 24:49.73), sophomore Audrey Duke (80th, 25:09.61), freshman Kacie Solages (81st, 25:15.15), junior Ashton Malicoate (92nd, 26:06.62) and freshman Kayla Loertscher (99th, 26:57.13).
Konich placed fifth (21:37.6) in the MSL-Cardinal Division meet Oct. 13 at Liberty Union Middle School to earn first-team all-league honors.
The Hornets finished fourth (82) in the league meet, behind Grandview (28), Fisher Catholic (75) and Liberty Union (81) and ahead of Berne Union (96) and Millersport (116).
The boys team ended its season by finishing seventh (191) in the 12-team Division II, district 1 meet.
Junior Tysson Olverson fell one spot shy of qualifying for regional, as he placed 17th (18:29.66). Also competing for the Hornets were freshman Anthony Haist (33rd, 19:04.86), sophomore Vince Masoni (42nd, 19:43.53), senior Drew Sellitto (44th, 20:01), freshman Brandon Haist (55th, 20:45.64), junior Babe Murphy (72nd, 21:57.39) and sophomore Alex Wilcox (77th, 23:01.34).
Granville (16) won the district title, as Whitehall (91), Bexley (93) and DeSales (126) also advanced to regional.
Licking Heights finished fourth (93) in the league meet, behind Liberty Union (29), Grandview (34) and Fisher Catholic (74) and ahead of Millersport (130), as Olverson led the way by placing 12th (18:29.8).
The Hornets will be losing three seniors, but Sellitto was the only one to compete at district.
Boys soccer team losing 12 seniors
The boys soccer team had one of its best seasons this fall, winning its first two postseason games in program history and improving from 8-7-1 last season to 11-6-1 under first-year coach Zach Grubb.
Licking Heights went 3-1-1 in the MSL-Cardinal to place second, behind Grandview (5-0) and ahead of West Jefferson (2-1-2), Fisher Catholic (2-2-1), Liberty Union (1-4) and Harvest Prep (0-5).
The Hornets defeated Jonathan Alder 1-0 in the first round of the Division II district tournament Oct. 16 and beat Beechcroft 3-0 in the second round Oct. 18 before losing to second-seeded Watterson 4-0 in a district semifinal Oct. 23.
Licking Heights loses 12 seniors, including forward Zach Phillips and midfielder Tesfu Reda. Both were named first-team all-league.
Expected to return are juniors Beven Chifamba (forward) and Abdi Fatah (goalkeeper), sophomores Ayub Ali (midfielder), Tajon Herring (forward), Caleb Hilderbrand (defender) and Gauthier Murat (forward) and freshman Connor Coffield (stopper).