Never let it be said that a 45-game losing streak robbed the Westerville North High School football team of its sense of humor.
As the Warriors’ 48-21 win over visiting Franklin Heights went final Aug. 30, there was one task North hadn’t mastered – how to celebrate. Hundreds of students poured onto the field from the packed home stands in jubilation, mixing with players, coaches and parents in something of a mob scene.
“Nobody knew what to do because it had been so long since we last won here,” coach Rodger Elander said. “We didn’t own that streak. Nobody did really, but we wanted it removed from our team and the kids got the job done.”
The Warriors posted their first win since defeating Westerville Central 21-17 on Sept. 19, 2008.
Perhaps no player was more ready for a win than senior running back/linebacker Andy Struttmann, a four-year varsity player who was 0-33 entering the season. Not only did he rush for 52 yards and three touchdowns on just seven carries and return a fumble for a touchdown, but he literally carried the school’s flag throughout the crowd as he soaked in the atmosphere and wouldn’t let go.
The celebration wasn’t limited to the field. Someone in a nearby neighborhood set off fireworks as the final seconds wound down.
“This is such an unbelievable feeling,” said Struttmann, whose fumble return came at the end of the first half and made the score 35-7. “I’m the only kid on this team who has played varsity since I was a freshman. To end that streak is one of the best feelings in the world. I’ve never seen so much hype going into a football game.”
Junior quarterback Jake Downs was 6-for-12 passing for 81 yards and running back Damani Johnson added 62 yards rushing and a touchdown on three carries.
According to Ohio High School Athletic Association records, the streak was tied for fifth-longest in the state with Ashtabula (1975-80) and Cincinnati Taft (1977-82). The Warriors were still well shy of the state-record 64-game skid endured by Youngstown North from 1957-64.
“This is a rebirth for our program,” Downs said.
North will try to move to 2-0 for the first time since 2004 when it visits Newark on Friday, Sept. 6.
The teams have not played since 2003, when both were members of the OCC-Ohio Division and North won 23-20.
The Wildcats, who opened with a 49-13 loss at Zanesville on Aug. 30, have endured their own prolonged struggles in recent years. The Wildcats lost 20 consecutive games from 2010-12, went 2-8 last year with wins over Logan (35-32) and Groveport (16-14) and are 8-59 since starting the 2006 season 4-0.
They were within 28-13 at halftime against Zanesville, but amassed only 25 total yards in the second half after putting up 223 in the first half. Newark gave up 458 yards and committed 13 penalties for 114 yards.
Quarterback Grant Russell, a 6-4, 215-pound senior and four-year starter, works behind an experienced line led by seniors Brett Benner and Jordan Comer and juniors Wes Jackson, Dylan Maring and Bobby Spring. Russell has thrown for 4,532 yards and 30 touchdowns in his career.
“It’s important that our players understand that this is the beginning and not the end,” Elander said. “We can celebrate this win, but (now) we need to turn our attention to our next opponent and do what we can to prepare ourselves to try to win that game, too.”