Less than a week removed from the end of his first season as Olentangy High School football coach, Mark Solis said he wanted just one thing.
"I'd really like it if we were still playing," said Solis, whose team went 8-2 overall and 5-2 in the OCC-Capital Division but fell short of the playoffs by three spots in Division II, Region 5. "Most teams that go 8-2 make the playoffs. But overall, I'm pretty pleased with how things turned out considering the circumstances of when I came in, putting a staff together and how the program embraced everything."
Solis was hired June 6 to replace the retiring Ed Terwilliger. Thriving on Solis' no-huddle offense, the Braves started 6-0 but lost to the two teams that finished ahead of them in the league -- New Albany (38-21 on Oct. 11) and Worthington Kilbourne (33-0 on Oct. 18) -- to fall out of playoff contention.
Olentangy finished with a 38-27 win over Mount Vernon on Oct. 25 and a 27-9 win at Delaware on Nov. 1, but couldn't overcome a lack of second-level points and finished 11th (17.3 points) in the Region 5 computer ratings. Northland (20.3333) earned the eighth and final playoff berth.
New Albany (9-1), Kilbourne (9-1) and Mount Vernon (6-4) were the only Olentangy opponents to finish with winning records. Canal Winchester, which Olentangy routed 41-6 in its opener Aug. 30, finished 0-10, and Franklin Heights, Lexington and Olentangy Orange each went 1-9.
The Braves finished third in the OCC-Capital behind Kilbourne (7-0) and New Albany (6-1) and ahead of Mount Vernon (4-3), Delaware (3-4), Big Walnut (2-5), Orange (1-6) and Franklin Heights (0-7).
"You can't control who's on the schedule," Solis said. "We knew that realistically, we had to get one or both of the games against New Albany and Kilbourne to make it in, and we didn't do that."
Olentangy finished its non-league schedule with a 26-23, double-overtime win over visiting Olentangy Liberty on Sept. 6 and a 48-21 rout of Lexington on Sept. 13, but sustained a major loss when senior quarterback Noah Durst suffered a season-ending hand injury. He was replaced by sophomore Deeb Haber, who was 114-for-171 passing for 1,211 yards with seven touchdowns and six interceptions.
The Braves began OCC-Capital play by beating Big Walnut 25-19 on Sept. 20 in Haber's debut. They routed Orange 45-2 on Sept. 27 and Franklin Heights 49-7 on Oct. 4 before playing New Albany.
Olentangy averaged 32 points and was almost perfectly balanced on offense, rushing for 1,992 yards and passing for 1,892. First-team all-league running back Hayden Hunter, a senior, led the ground game with 710 yards and three touchdowns on 118 carries, followed by junior Anthony Golden's 421 yards and seven touchdowns on 81 carries.
Hunter also caught 29 passes for 343 yards and three scores.
Senior J.T. Grega was the team's leading receiver, catching 47 passes for 519 yards and six scores. He was second-team all-league.
Senior Victor Elmurr had 23 catches for 318 yards and three scores, and sophomore tight end Austin Kochheiser added 16 receptions for 167 yards and a touchdown.
Junior linebacker Jake Didion had a team-high 120 tackles, including 23 for loss, just ahead of senior linebacker Kevin Sherry's 114. Junior defensive lineman Connor Slade led with six sacks.
"With it being (Solis') first year, we had a saying 'Just drink the Kool-Aid,' " said Didion, who was named first-team all-league.
"We all bought into the system, and the results showed."
Sophomore kicker Jacob Bell and senior offensive lineman Chase Troyer also were first-team all-league. Sophomore defensive lineman/fullback Chris Crumb, senior linebacker Tim Feasel and senior offensive lineman Andy Simms were second-team all-league, senior offensive lineman Curtis Conrad was special mention all-league and junior defensive end Nate Hall was honorable mention.
According to Solis, Crumb -- who had 95 tackles and scored six touchdowns on offense -- already is garnering interest from Division I schools, including Ohio State.
Junior defensive back Nick Tarpey added 78 tackles and an interception.
Solis is champing at the bit to begin the program's offseason agenda in December -- not to mention playing on the artificial turf that currently is being installed at Olentangy's stadium.
Work began the first week of November on the new surface, the cost for which is privately funded.
"I'm just a little excited (about the turf)," Solis said. "It's going to be huge for what we want to do. So will just being here for the entire offseason. I'm looking forward to put something of a stamp on the program in terms of what we do in the weight room, team-building activities and even more cohesiveness."