Coming off a season in which it made its first extended postseason run and won a share of its second league title, the Pickerington High School North football team had high expectations despite losing three Division I recruits and a two-year starting quarterback to graduation.
The Panthers aren't expecting a drop-off next year either, even though they are losing 24 seniors from a team that went 10-2 and again won a share of the OCC-Ohio Division championship.
"We expect the same kind of season next year," junior Frankie Weirick said. "The (junior varsity) only lost one or two games, and in the offseason we'll take them under our wing and keep doing what we've been doing."
North, which was the eighth seed for the Division I, Region 2 playoffs, lost to top-seeded Hilliard Davidson 20-7 in a second-round game Nov. 16 at Gahanna.
The game was tied at 7 entering the fourth quarter, but the Panthers gave up an 80-yard touchdown pass to Phillipie Motley and a pair of field goals as Davidson improved to 12-0.
The senior class was led by three-year starting linebacker Dylan Weigel, who is the school's all-time leading tackler, and quarterback Zeph Miller.
Weigel, who was first-team all-district, finished the season with 10.5 sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss and more than 100 tackles.
Miller, who was second-team all-district, completed 124 of 220 passes for 1,975 yards with 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and rushed for a team-best 818 yards with 15 touchdowns.
Seniors Justin Childers (DB) and Karch Holland (K) were first-team all-district and seniors Bryce Bishop (OL) and Geno Rollo (DL) made the second team. Holland made 13 of 17 field-goal attempts and 45 extra points. Childers had 12 catches at wide receiver in addition to having 39.5 tackles. Rollo had five tackles for loss.
Weigel, Miller, Childers, Rollo, Bishop and senior Tony Welch (WR/DB) were first-team all-league. Weirick (DB), senior Chris McDowell (WR), junior Kyle Beemiller (OL/DL) and sophomore Trezden Johnson (DB) made the second team, juniors Jaye Williams (WR) and Matt Myers (DB) were special mention and senior Jordan Chambers (WR/DB) was honorable mention.
Senior Jabree Lather led the running backs with 671 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on 109 carries.
Williams was the leading receiver with 36 catches for 477 yards, followed by McDowell (30 catches for 640 yards), senior Tanner Gillum (18 catches for 244 yards) and junior Quincy Storey (14 catches for 269 yards).
"I'm proud of what these kids did," coach Tom Phillips said. "You've got a team that came back from last year after ending the season (with a 26-21 loss to Cincinnati Moeller in a state semifinal) and they ended up winning the league and making the playoffs."
Led a year ago by Jake Butt (Michigan), Godwin Igwebuike (Northwestern) and Chris Huhn (Marshall), along with quarterback Mason Olszewski (Charleston), North went 12-2.
The Panthers followed by winning their first nine games this year before losing to Grove City 34-24 on Nov. 1 in the regular-season finale.
The loss dropped North into a tie for the league title with Pickerington Central at 6-1, followed by Grove City (5-2), Gahanna, Reynoldsburg and Lancaster (3-4) and Newark and Groveport (1-6).
In the first round of the playoffs Nov. 9, North beat ninth-seeded Fairfield 20-10 to win the fourth postseason game in its history.
Johnson should be back to lead the defense after finishing with 12 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Other top returnees should be Weirick, junior defensive back Romaeo Whitlow (4 interceptions) and Myers (3.5 tackles for loss).
Weirick is the only player eligible to return who saw time at quarterback, but he attempted just three passes early in the loss to Grove City.
Junior Brett Howell (RB) rushed for 500 yards and three touchdowns on 95 carries in his first season in the program.
"Obviously it didn't end the way we wanted it to, but a 10-2 season is pretty good," Welch said. "We had great chemistry since we've played together for so long."