First-year New Albany High School football coach Pat Samanich stood near the north end zone at DeSales, huddling with his players.
The top-seeded Eagles had just lost to third-seeded Zanesville 35-28 in the Division II, Region 5 final Nov. 22, but Samanich could not have been more proud of his team.
"We have been banged up and beaten up all year," said Samanich, whose team finished 11-2 overall.
"All these guys have done is work hard to rehab and get back to where they are 75, 60, 50 percent or whatever and work their way back to where they could get on the field and give all they have. They wanted to get back out there and play one more game."
The Eagles rushed for 302 yards on 54 carries against the Blue Devils led by senior running back Trey Quillin, who ran for 131 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries. Senior running back Wyatt Johnston had 84 yards on 10 carries and senior running back Hayden George had 38 yards on 11 carries.
"They ran the ball really well and had a big running back (in the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Quillin)," Zanesville senior defensive back Trey Scoles said. "They were tough to stop."
Senior quarterback Tanner Cline threw a 16-yard pass to Johnston for the Eagles' other touchdown. Cline was 2-for-7 passing with two interceptions, and senior defensive back Joe Siegenthaler had an interception.
"We're going to continue to work and we're going to continue to get better," Samanich said. "The lessons we learn from this game will make us better."
Although the Eagles did not advance as far into the postseason as last year, when they lost in a state semifinal, this season's team had a much better start. New Albany, which lost its first two games in 2012, won its first eight this year and was ranked No. 1 in the state poll for the first time.
The Eagles defeated Reynoldsburg 38-20 on Aug. 30, Westerville Central 57-50 on Sept. 6 and DeSales 17-0 on Sept. 13 in non-league games. New Albany cruised through its first three OCC-Capital Division games, routing Olentangy Orange 49-13 on Sept. 20, Franklin Heights 42-13 on Sept. 27 and Dela-ware 31-9 on Oct. 4 before steadily pulling away from then-undefeated Olentangy for a 38-21 win Oct. 11.
That was the win that catapulted New Albany to the No. 1 ranking. The Eagles stayed there after edging then-winless Big Walnut 13-10 on Oct. 18, a game in which they committed three turnovers and got the winning touchdown from senior running back Leslie Anokye with three minutes to play.
New Albany suffered its only regular-season loss seven days later. Losing Siegenthaler in the second quarter against Worthington Kilbourne with a meniscus injury, the Eagles never gained traction offensively and lost 14-12.
A 17-14 win Nov. 1 at Mount Vernon gave New Albany a 6-1 league finish, second behind Kilbourne (7-0) and ahead of Olentangy (5-2), Mount Vernon (4-3), Delaware (3-4), Big Walnut (2-5), Orange (1-6) and Franklin Heights (0-7).
New Albany earned the top seed in Region 5 then almost gave away its first-round home game against eighth-seeded Northland on Nov. 8. Despite losing four of six fumbles and committing five turnovers, the Eagles won 35-21.
They rushed for 339 yards and allowed just five yards on the ground in a regional semifinal against fourth-seeded Mansfield Senior, winning 26-22 on Nov. 15 at Olentangy Liberty.
Quillin paced New Albany's ground game, rushing for 946 yards and 17 touchdowns on 142 carries. He was first-team all-league and special mention all-district.
Johnston had 687 yards and five scores on 86 carries, just ahead of George's 670 yards and five touchdowns on 108 carries.
Siegenthaler was the Eagles' biggest all-purpose threat, catching 31 passes for 564 yards and five touchdowns, rushing for 204 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries and making five interceptions. He was first-team all-league and second-team all-district.
Cline finished 61-for-144 passing for 933 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. He was honorable mention all-district.
Senior linebacker Hayden Hatten was the district's Defensive Player of the Year and shared OCC-Capital Player of the Year honors with Mount Vernon's J.D. Orr and Kilbourne's Seth Hill.
Senior lineman Ryan Wilson was second-team all-league and second-team all-district. Senior defensive back Victor Chamberlain was first-team all-league and special mention all-district, sophomore kicker Joey Rolwing and junior lineman Jack Schroer were second-team all-league and special mention all-district, and senior defensive back Tyrell Howard was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Senior running back/defensive back O.B. Oppong was second-team all-league. Special mention all-league honors went to senior lineman Jack Archer, senior receiver Ross Henze and junior cornerback/backup quarterback Jalen Ward.