The Thomas Worthington High School football team doubled its win total from last season and matched its second-best record over the last 14 years, but it fell short of its expectations.
The Cardinals finished 4-6 overall after going 2-8 last year. They haven't finished with a winning record since 1999, when they went 7-3. Since then, their only non-losing season was in 2009, when they finished 5-5. They also went 4-6 in 2011.
"It was a definite improvement, but at the same time, it was a disappointment because we felt like we had a better season in us," coach Scott Gordon said.
"We had some great athletes, a strong senior class in terms of ability and leadership, and we just felt we would have a stronger season."
The Cardinals were 3-2 at the midpoint of the season, but their only win in the final five games came against Central Crossing (43-6 on Oct. 18). They were competitive in losses to two opponents that made the Division I playoff qualifiers in Dublin Coffman (28-16 on Oct. 4) and Marysville (24-17 on Oct. 11).
"Those are the two winnable games that we let slip away and both of those teams were playoff teams," Gordon said. "If we come up with those wins, there's an outside chance we make the playoffs at 6-4. Although we also were involved in a couple blowout losses, we showed that we improved and could play with those calibers of teams."
Thomas lost to two other playoff teams in Worthington Kilbourne (44-7 on Sept. 6) and Hilliard Davidson (55-14 on Oct. 25). The Wolves and Wildcats qualified for the postseason in Division II and I, respectively.
In addition to Central Crossing, the Cardinals posted victories over Jonathan Alder (33-7 on Aug. 30), Eastmoor Academy (35-12 on Sept. 13) and Westland (76-32 on Sept. 27). Eastmoor finished 6-4.
Thomas' other losses came against Upper Arlington (45-7 on Sept. 20) and Olentangy Liberty (41-10 on Nov. 1).
The Cardinals finished 2-5 in the OCC-Central Division to place sixth, behind Davidson (7-0), Coffman (6-1), Liberty (4-3), Marysville (4-3) and UA (4-3) and ahead of Central Crossing (1-6) and Westland (0-7).
Thomas loses 27 seniors, including key players on offense in quarterback Danny Gordon, running back Tony Harvard, fullback Nick Petrucelli, wide receivers Brandon Miller, Rick Washington and Jalen Wells and linemen James Peters and Richard Spernoga.
A first-team all-league selection, Harvard rushed for 1,332 yards and 16 touchdowns on 220 carries and had 23 receptions for 295 yards and a touchdown. He also completed three of four halfback passes for 102 yards and a touchdown.
"We have a number of talented players to replace, but he's by far the biggest," coach Gordon said of Harvard. "He's a special player and gifted athlete."
Gordon was 116-for-224 passing for 1,621 yards with 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and made second-team all-league pick.
"He was very effective," coach Gordon said of his son. "We dropped 61 passes officially. Tony Harvard also would've had just under 400 more yards if it weren't for penalties wiping out many of his runs. Those are areas that we must fix next year. It's tough to have those numbers and be successful."
Miller was the Cardinals' leading receiver with 45 receptions for 524 yards and five touchdowns. Washington had 23 catches for 291 and one score and Wells had 11 catches for 273 yards and six touchdowns.
Among the key seniors on defense were Spernoga on the line, Petrucelli and senior Anthony Hopkins at linebacker and Wells in the secondary.
Hopkins made second-team all-league and Wells was special mention all-league.
"Many of (the starters on offense) also played strong roles on defense," coach Gordon said. "Spernoga was solid at defensive end, Petrucelli was tremendous at linebacker and Wells had four interceptions at cornerback.
"Plus, we lose others like Anthony Hopkins, who had a great, great season at outside linebacker. No doubt about it, we're losing a lot."
The Cardinals also lose senior place-kicker and punter Ben Frazier, who made four field goals and was second-team all-league as a punter.
Expected back on offense are four players who saw time at running back in juniors P.J. Shotwell and Joe Thompson and sophomores Jozay Kidd and Anthony Falks and one player who saw limited time at quarterback in junior Trevon Smith, who was 1-for-2 passing for 8 yards. The five players combined for 143 yards rushing on 31 carries, with Falks having four receptions for 119 yards.
Starters expected to return are junior Kyle Hilyard (LB), sophomores Liam Buchy (OL), Preston Byers (OL) and Zach Henderson (DL) and freshman Travis Sanders (OL).
Hilyard was honorable mention all-league.
Also expected to return is sophomore Chase Forte, who saw playing time as a place-kicker late in the season in preparation for next season.