A season after losing a two-time state Player of the Year and a major college recruit, the Hartley High School football team made it one step deeper into the postseason.
The Hawks, who also lost four key contributors to season-ending injuries this fall, fell to Coldwater 24-7 in the Division V state championship game Dec. 7 at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon to finish 13-2.
"It was about our motto of: 'Count on me,' " said senior running back and defensive back Alonzo Saxton, who was district and state Defensive Player of the Year. "Unfortunately you have guys go down, but when one of our guys went down you didn't notice it because the next guy that came in played just as well."
Hartley, which lost in a Division IV state semifinal a year ago, won its third regional title in four seasons despite losing Ja'Wuan Woodley and Jacob Matuska among its 2013 senior class. Matuska is playing for Notre Dame and Woodley was a state Defensive Player of the Year as a junior and a state Offensive Player of the Year as a senior.
The Hawks won non-league games over CCL-foes St. Charles (20-7 on Sept. 20) and Watterson (35-14 on Oct. 4) before beating Ready 21-14 in overtime Nov. 1 for the CCL-Gold Division title.
Then in the postseason, Hartley defeated Chillicothe Zane Trace (64-7 on Nov. 9), Liberty Union (14-7 on Nov. 16), Wheelersburg (42-20 on Nov. 23) and Akron Manchester (49-22 on Nov. 30).
In addition to the state-final loss to Coldwater, the Hawks fell to the Cavaliers 41-16 on Sept. 6.
Junior Mateo Saxton (RB/DB), who is Alonzo's brother, suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason. Juniors Jack Zang (LB), Cavell Bennett (RB/LB) and Ben Reis (OL) later went down with season-ending injuries.
Sophomores Quri Hickman (RB/LB) and Ryan Reed (RG) were among those who helped fill those holes.
Hartley loses 18 seniors, including starters Jared Brandewie (QB), Sam Mackowiak (RB/LB), Shawn Smith-Davis (RB/LB), Jacob Mercier (WR/DB), Kalil Morris (TE/DL), Nick Boeriu (OL/DL), Austin Kirkbride (OL), Max Steele (C) and Alonzo Saxton.
In addition to Hickman and Reed, eligible to return after starting in the state final are juniors Ernesto Pantoja (OL), Tayron Washington (DL), Patrick Heinmiller (LB), Jalen Austin (DB) and Rian Anderson (DB).
Sophomore Jared Croswell (OL) also started this season.
Mackowiak finished with 2,102 yards and 29 touchdowns rushing, while Brandewie passed for 1,372 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushed for five scores. Mercier and Alonzo Saxton scored 15 and eight touchdowns, respectively.
Alonzo Saxton, who also had nine interceptions, has committed to Duke. Morris will play for Kent State.
Mackowiak, Morris and Alonzo Saxton were first-team all-state, senior kicker Collin Barringer made the second team, Boeriu was third team and Mercier was special mention.
Hickman rushed for 577 yards and three touchdowns. Heinmiller had nine tackles for loss and Washington had seven tackles for loss.
"Our program and the CCL has a tradition of playing in December, and the kids coming back will be champing at the bit to see what they can do to get back here (to the state final) next year," coach Brad Burchfield said. "It's a great driving force for the kids."
Swimming teams sporting new look
With former state champions Ronnie Bolden (Kentucky) and Andrea Cottrell (Louis-ville) now competing in college, the boys and girls swimming and diving teams have a group of athletes that coach Tony Phillips hopes is ready to step up.
The girls scored two points to tie for 44th in the 46-team, season-opening Ned Reeb Invitational on Dec. 7 at Ohio State behind champion Upper Arlington (488). The boys scored two points to tie for 42nd of 44 teams behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (485).
"Obviously, the graduation of our two former state champs, Ronnie Bolden and Andrea Cottrell, will create some big 'stepping-up' opportunities within our team," Phillips said. "Right now our goal is to simply focus on every stroke and every lap in practice and be open to good things happening."
The boys should be led by junior Patrick Lawrence and sophomore Jonathan Kluczynski, who joined Bolden and 2013 graduate Vince Canini on the 200-yard medley relay that was 23rd in the Division II state meet last season.
Senior Brian Hearns (diving), juniors Kevin Krieger (breaststroke), Michael Bungard (sprints, individual medley) and Luke Birnbrich (backstroke), sophomores Niels Grunden (breast) and Mitchell Coverdale (back, freestyle) and freshman Carlos Hernandez (free, butterfly) also hope to contribute.
Bolden won the state title in the 50 free as a junior. He was second in the 50 free and third in the 100 fly at state last season.
Senior Alexa Williams, who was on the 200 free relay that placed 15th at state two years ago, is the top returnee for the girls.
Sophomores Hayley Elizondo, Sidney Melton and Jillian Rhodes and freshmen Carly Archambeau and Erin Carmon should compete in sprint relays.
Also looking to contribute are seniors Michaela Allen (middle distance free) and Aoife Hannon (middle distance free) and juniors Emily Doane (free) and Veronica Burk (free).
Cottrell won the 100 breast as a junior and took third in the 100 breast and fourth in the 200 IM at state a year ago.