The DeSales High School football team won't have to spend significant time deciding on a goal for next season.
Having an 18-year run of postseason appearances come to an end already has begun to unite some of the Stallions' expected returnees.
DeSales went 5-5 and finished ninth in Division III, Region 10. The top eight teams qualified for the playoffs.
"The fact that we didn't make the playoffs is going to drive us harder," junior Griff Saunders (RB/LB) said. "I feel like the fact that we had a lot of juniors step up and contribute is a great thing."
DeSales entered this season with little returning experience, but Saunders was among several underclassmen who became key players.
Juniors Sayyid Kanu (RB/DB) and Emmanuel Mawutor (RB/LB) also should be among the top returnees.
Kanu rushed for 141 yards in limited action on offense but had five interceptions and made first-team all-district at defensive back.
Mawutor was the team's top tackler.
Other underclassmen who started were junior Bryan Stopar at defensive tackle and sophomore Nick O'Brien at center. Junior Tucker Yinger (RB/DB) rushed for 120 yards and was among the team's leaders in tackles and pass breakups.
Junior Domenic Skunda (OL/LB) was a regular on defense before getting injured midway through the season.
"I feel like we're going to take the experience and know more of what to do next year to win games," Stopar said. "We've got some really good juniors and some really good sophomores and some really hard-working classes. There are also some talented people in those classes.
"This year we had a good work ethic and talent, but we just didn't execute the way we had to. Hopefully we'll do better next year."
DeSales couldn't overcome a 1-3 start that included a 13-10 triple-overtime loss to Gahanna on Aug. 24.
Although the Stallions beat Brookhaven 32-26 on Aug. 31, they lost to New Albany 56-22 on Sept. 7 and then fell to Union (Ky.) Ryle 21-10 on Sept. 14. Ryle finished 3-7.
A 28-16 win over St. Charles on Sept. 28 extended DeSales' string of wins over the Cardinals to 36, and it followed with a 44-0 win over Cincinnati Aiken on Oct. 6.
The Stallions, however, lost to Watterson 24-21 in three overtimes Oct. 12 and lost to Charleston (W.Va.) George Washington 49-20 on Oct. 26 to come up short of the playoffs.
DeSales loses 22 seniors, including first-team all-district linebacker Oliver Grimard, second-team all-district running back J.T. Blubaugh and special mention all-district defensive lineman Chris Ritter.
Blubaugh rushed for 895 yards and 10 touchdowns despite missing two games with injuries. In addition to being one of its leading tacklers, Grimard also was the team's leading receiver with 23 catches for 377 yards and five touchdowns.
Senior defensive lineman Michael Hippler was honorable mention all-district.
Senior quarterback Alex Perrine was 48-for-81 passing for 739 yards with eight touchdowns and rushed for 560 yards out of the team's option offense.
Sophomore Adam Acquista made five of six field goals and was 14-for-15 in extra points. Junior punter Charlie Stack averaged 35.1 yards.
"This year, for whatever reason, we couldn't get anything to fall our way," coach Ryan Wiggins said. "We'll have seven or eight guys to work with (next year) who were starters whereas (heading into this season) we just had a couple. We also lost three coaches, so it was a fresh start in a lot of ways and in the first month of the season we weren't able to get it together.
"We'll keep plugging away. It was an impressive (playoff streak) but the world didn't end because the streak ended. To me, what we've done over the years is amazing."