The Hilliard Darby High School football team achieved unprecedented levels of success this season in terms of program history.
The Panthers posted their best overall record by finishing 11-1, went undefeated in the regular season for the first time and won their first outright league championship by going 7-0 in the OCC-Cardinal Division. They also tied their program record for wins in a season, which had been set in 2007 when they went 11-2.
The top seed in Division I, Region 3, Darby opened the playoffs with a 31-10 win over eighth-seeded Westerville South on Nov. 3 before losing to fourth-seeded Pickerington North 24-14 in a regional semifinal Nov. 10.
As a result of its perfect regular season, Darby was ThisWeek's Super 7 poll champion for the first time. The Panthers were ranked sixth in the final state poll.
"I felt very confident in our senior class because of our seniors' work ethic, but it's hard to forecast how well your own team will perform, so I never could have predicted that we'd go undefeated (in the regular season) and finish No. 1 in any polls," coach John Santagata said. "Looking at our schedule, we knew we had a lot of big challenges to overcome, so we were always looking at each new week as it came. You always hope and prepare to have an undefeated season, but you never can predict it."
Darby wasn't ranked in the preseason poll. After a 17-3 victory over Hilliard Davidson in week two, the Panthers moved into the poll at No. 5.
The Panthers were at No. 3 until after the final week of the regular season when they ascended to No. 1, passing Dublin Coffman and North, who both lost.
Coffman and North finished second and third, respectively, in the final Super 7, followed by Hartley, Dublin Scioto, Olentangy and New Albany.
"Being the No. 1 team in our area is definitely something we wanted to do all year," senior quarterback Chase Longwell said. "But we never got discouraged when people counted us out because we knew we'd eventually get to the top if we kept working hard and playing well."