For the second consecutive year, the Upper Arlington High School football team performed better in the second half of the season than the first.
The Golden Bears opened with back-to-back losses, falling to Marion-Franklin 26-7 on Aug. 30 and Cincinnati Elder 27-7 on Sept. 6, and lost three of their first five but won three of their final five to finish 5-5 overall.
UA, which missed the Division I playoffs for the second year in a row, was 20th in the Region 2 computer ratings entering its season finale against Dublin Coffman on Nov. 1, but the visiting Shamrocks scored a touchdown with 57 seconds left to win 17-14 and end the Bears' season as well as the nine-year tenure of coach Mike Golden. UA finished 22nd in Region 2, as the top 16 made the postseason.
Last year, the Bears started 2-3 but went 4-1 in the second half of the season, including wins in their final three games, to finish 6-4. They ended the season 14th in Region 3, as the top eight made the playoffs.
"We all had very high expectations this year," senior running back and linebacker Chase Greenlee said. "As a team, we were bummed with missing the playoffs, but we were pretty happy with how we played in October to get in a position to make it. The offense really stepped it up and our defense came around, too. We were in the right position to make big plays a lot more."
UA went 1-4 against teams that made the playoffs, beating Marysville 26-14 on Oct. 18 but losing to Marion-Franklin, Elder, Coffman and Hilliard Davidson (21-0 on Oct. 11).
"We played a lot of playoff teams," said Golden, who publicly announced after the loss to Coffman that he was retiring from coaching. "We played everybody tough. We never laid down for anybody. I told the seniors that you're 5-5 in football, but you're winners at home, in the school and in life. You're going to win."
UA's other wins came against Gahanna (31-7 on Sept. 13), Thomas Worthington (45-7 on Sept. 20), Central Crossing (41-7 on Oct. 4) and Westland (69-0 on Oct. 25). Its other loss came against Olentangy Liberty (16-8 on Sept. 27).
The Bears finished 4-3 in the OCC-Central Division to tie Liberty and Marysville for third, behind Davidson (7-0) and Coffman (6-1) and ahead of Thomas (2-5), Central Crossing (1-6) and Westland (0-7).
"We got close to what we wanted. We had some opportunities," Golden said. "We gave ourselves a chance, and that's all you can ask for."
Golden told his seniors of his decision to retire during the week leading up to the game against Coffman. He was 203-78 in 24 seasons as a head coach at Watterson (1989-2002), New Albany (2004) and UA.
Senior running back and linebacker Chris Frey, who has committed to Michigan State, led the offense with 855 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on 155 carries and had 57 tackles, including 13 for loss, and a team-high eight sacks on defense. Greenlee had 372 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on 71 carries on offense and had a team-high 64 tackles with five sacks on defense.
Senior lineman Noah Spielman, who has committed to University of Toledo, was a three-year starter on defense. This season, he recorded 44 tackles, including 14 solo and eight for loss, and three sacks.
Senior Lewis Hughes scored three touchdowns as a running back after beginning the season as a wide receiver and had 42 tackles, including 18 solo, as a defensive back.
The only expected returnee on defense with more than 20 tackles is junior linebacker Coleson Carmell with 45.5.
Junior quarterback Kyle Kaparos was 59-for-126 passing for 764 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions and rushed for 197 yards and three touchdowns on 74 carries.
Other expected returnees include juniors Jackson Pfister (TE/DE) and Quinten Wolfe (OL/DL) and sophomore Jared O'Brien (K), who made three of seven field-goal attempts and was 24-for-25 on extra-point attempts.
Senior wide receiver Nick Blazek caught a team-high nine passes for 187 yards. Senior Sam Wheeler (WR/P) had six catches for 147 yards and two touchdowns and averaged 36.7 yards per punt in 54 attempts, earning first-team all-league honors as a punter.
Frey, Greenlee, Spielman and senior Jackson Finfrock (WR/DB) also were first-team all-league. Blazek, Hughes, senior Graham Devine (TE/LB) and senior Elliot Timmons (DE) were second-team all-league, Pfister was special mention all-league and Kaparos was honorable mention all-league.
"We played good defense and ran the ball well," said Golden, whose team allowed 14.2 points per game and amassed 2,093 yards rushing. "That was our goal."