The Thomas Worthington High School football team's rough start led to a 13th consecutive non-winning season.
The Cardinals started 0-4 and finished 2-8 overall, including 2-5 in the OCC-Central Division.
"It was a disappointing season because we entered with high expectations," coach Scott Gordon said. "By no means did we believe we were a 2-8 club. We were 4-6 last season and thought we would improve that. By no means did we think we'd be 2-8, by any stretch of the imagination. I know we were a better team than that."
Thomas last had a winning record in 1999, when it went 7-3. The Cardinals were 3-7 in each season from 2000-02, 0-10 in 2003, 1-9 in 2004, 2-8 in each season from 2005-08, 5-5 in 2009, 3-7 in 2010 and 4-6 last season.
Before 1999, Thomas previously had a winning record in 1992, when it finished 7-3. The Cardinals finished .500 one other time since then, going 5-5 in 1997.
Thomas struggled on offense early. The Cardinals lost to Jonathan Alder 28-6 on Aug. 24 and then fell to Worthington Kilbourne 37-3 on Aug. 31, Westerville Central 41-0 on Sept. 7 and Upper Arlington 42-7 in the league opener Sept. 14.
The Cardinals scored at least 14 points in every game after that, including a 50-19 win over Westland on Sept. 22, but they surrendered an average of 39.8 points in the final five games and 34.7 for the season.
"We just didn't overcome adversity, in the context of a game or in the entire season," Gordon said. "That's why the first few games are so critical when you're trying to build winning seasons. We've struggled for a while now, and when things went bad during a game, our heads would drop with that 'Here we go again' mentality.
"That's not to say we didn't play well at times. We probably played one good half in every game. We just couldn't sustain it. But when things went bad, we gave up a big play or something, things would snowball. We tended to mentally dwell on the bad thing and not fight back right away."
The only other win for Thomas was 28-27 over Central Crossing on Oct. 12.
Thomas finished sixth in the league, behind co-champions Dublin Coffman and Hilliard Davidson (6-1), Olentangy Liberty (5-2), UA (5-2) and Marysville (3-4) and ahead of Central Crossing (1-6) and Westland (0-7).
The Cardinals lose 14 seniors, including Brooks Gilmore and Jon Highley. Gilmore was a three-year starter on the offensive line and Highley was a two-way lineman. Gilmore was first-team all-league and Highley was special mention.
Other key seniors included Justin Cunningham (LB/RB), Connor Grubb (DB), Max King (LB/TE) and Jay Smallwood (WR). Smallwood had 35 receptions for 320 yards and two touchdowns.
"We don't lose a large group, but there was some talent there," Gordon said. "Jay Smallwood had a great season and will likely play on the next level.
"Guys like Brooks Gilmore and Max King played their tails off. Jon Highley played through knee and ankle injuries, and Justin Cunningham and Connor Grubb also played injured. They showed great grit and leadership. They made the most of their senior seasons, despite our record."
On offense, the Cardinals expect to return a "strong group ... led by a good corps of receivers with (juniors) Jalen Wells, Brandon Miller, Ben Frazier and Rick Washington," Gordon said. "We'll have (junior) Tony Harvard at running back and he's a tremendous talent who will be one of the top recruited players in all of central Ohio."
Harvard rushed for 1,172 yards and nine touchdowns on 216 carries and caught 27 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Nick Petrucelli was the second-leading rusher with 40 carries for 268 yards and three touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Danny Gordon was 112-for-205 passing for 1,278 yards with eight touchdowns with nine interceptions. Miller had 20 catches for 214 yards and one score, Wells caught 14 passes for 349 yards and three touchdowns and Washington had 11 catches for 140 yards. Wells also had three interceptions at cornerback, while only playing three games on defense.
"We need to replace some guys in the secondary and on the interior line," coach Gordon said. "But we have a good nucleus returning and Wells ended up playing great in the secondary. Our ends, (juniors) Wesley Smith and Richard Spernoga, also will be defensive leaders."
Frazier was first-team all-league as a punter. Harvard and Wells made second-team all-league and Petrucelli was honorable mention.
Harvard and Gilmore were special mention all-district and Frazier and Danny Gordon were honorable mention.