Whether it was the long bus ride to Bryan or that his football team wasn't prepared for the Golden Bears' pass-oriented offense in the first round of the Division III, Region 10 playoffs Nov. 3, Watterson High School junior running back Walter Green can't shake the idea that the Eagles weren't ready to play that night.
Seeded fifth in the region, Watterson lost to fourth-seeded Bryan 41-24 to finish 7-4 overall. Green believes that he and the other expected returnees for the Eagles will learn from the experience.
"We came out flat and they seemed more hungry," he said. "Traveling three hours threw us off a little bit. They were more intense than we were. (The loss) was upsetting, but it just fuels us for next year."
Watterson won the state championship in 2010 but slipped to 3-7 a year ago. The Eagles showed early on this season, however, that they were ready to make another run for the postseason.
Watterson opened with consecutive wins over Whitehouse Anthony Wayne (28-14 on Aug. 24), Hamilton (21-3 on Aug. 31) and Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit (13-7 on Sept. 7).
The Eagles lost their next three games, including a 28-14 defeat at the hands of the state's No. 1-ranked team in Division IV, Hartley, on Sept. 28.
They won their final four games of the regular season, however, beating another Division IV playoff qualifier in Ironton 42-8 on Oct. 5, edging DeSales 24-21 in three overtimes on Oct. 12, defeating St. Charles 21-17 on Oct. 19 to secure the CCL-Silver Division title and beating Jonathan Alder 27-19 on Oct. 26 to clinch their fourth playoff berth in the last five seasons.
Watterson went 2-0 in the CCL-Silver to finish ahead of DeSales (1-1) and St. Charles (0-2).
The Eagles are losing 15 seniors, including 6-foot-3, 280-pound two-way lineman Andrew Lorenz, who was named district Defensive Player of the Year after finishing with 61 tackles, two sacks and four tackles for loss.
Senior quarterback Andy Elberson completed 65 of 128 passes for 810 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 709 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was special mention all-district.
Other key seniors included Michael Vlahakis (WR/DB/P), George Cleary (TE/DE), John Nutter (WR/DB) and Matt Stafford (LB). Vlahakis was special mention all-district after finishing with 24 receptions and averaging 37 yards per punt.
"Obviously, when you get into the playoffs, you always want to go further," said coach Dan Bjelac, who completed his 10th season leading the program. "Unfortunately, we didn't do that. We had a tough schedule this year and a lot of good things happened."
The Eagles should enter next season a step ahead of where they were at the start of this season in terms of experience.
Green was the team's leading rusher with 753 yards and eight touchdowns and was honorable mention all-district. Junior running backs DeAndre Golden and Cody Calhoun also are expected to return. Golden rushed for 398 yards and Calhoun ran for 355 yards in eight games.
Calhoun also played in the secondary, finishing with 51 tackles and making honorable mention all-district.
Junior Ryan Urquhart (WR/DB) was among the team's top receivers with seven catches for 103 yards and had three interceptions. Junior tight end Alec Greene had six receptions for 131 yards.
Junior lineman John Bogue had 50 tackles and was second-team all-district on defense.
Three other juniors, Kyle Fada (DL), Nate DePalma (DL) and Eli Kirk (LB), were key players on defense.
Sophomore kicker Michael Harper, who was 4-for-5 in field-goal attempts and 25-for-26 in extra points, made honorable mention all-district.
"It's a team full of juniors and we can go further next year," Green said. "We've just got to do the work."