A strong senior class and good depth helped the Worthington Kilbourne High School football team post its first winning season in four years, its first playoff appearance in five years, its first OCC championship in eight years and its most victories in nine years.
The Wolves' season ended with a 36-0 loss to Zanesville in a Division II, Region 5 semifinal Nov. 15 at Gahanna.
Kilbourne, which was seeded second in the region and 10th in the final state poll, finished 10-2 overall, marking its most wins since going 11-3 in 2004. Ranked first in the final state poll and seeded third in the region, Zanesville improved to 12-0 and advanced to play top-seeded New Albany in the regional final Friday, Nov. 22, at DeSales.
The Wolves' previous winning season was 2009, when they finished 5-4. They had finished 3-7 the past two seasons after going 4-6 in 2010. Their previous postseason appearance came in 2008, when they went 9-3.
"We had high expectations last season, but we lost five games by a touchdown or less and never could get over the hump," said coach Vince Trombetti, who was named OCC-Capital Division and Division II district Coach of the Year. "But we knew we were close (to turning around the program), and we had six players this season who were three-year starters.
"We had a special senior class that was going to make sure we turned things around and got back to playing Kilbourne football. It was a phenomenal season, especially after going 3-7 the past two years."
Kilbourne entered its matchup with Zanesville on a 10-game winning streak but struggled to move the ball against the Blue Devils. The Wolves finished the game with only five first downs and had five turnovers, all interceptions.
"We found ourselves in third-and-long situations way too often, but that shouldn't intimidate us," Trombetti said. "The most frustrating thing is the fact we made so many penalties and turnovers that we really didn't give ourselves a chance. We put our defense in trouble most of the game."
One interception was returned 30 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the third quarter to give Zanesville a 29-0 lead and two others set up scores. Another interception thwarted a 12-play drive as Kilbourne approached the red zone early in the second quarter.
Zanesville, which posted its fourth consecutive shutout, led 3-0 after the first quarter and 16-0 at halftime.
Running back Jamal Gladden rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries and quarterback Thomas Wibbeler completed 11 of 22 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown to lead the Blue Devils, who entered the game averaging 51.4 points.
"We were homed in on stopping the pass," senior linebacker Taylor Wilson said. "Honestly, I wasn't expecting them to run the ball that well."
The Wolves' triple-option offense was limited to only 48 yards rushing on 30 carries and 147 total yards.
"We couldn't afford to fall behind like that," Trombetti said. "We wanted to take charge up front on both sides of the ball and we didn't win those battles for the most part. I thought defensively, other than two big plays, we did pretty well."
Kilbourne defeated seventh-seeded Dublin Scioto 38-3 in the first round of the playoffs Nov. 8 at home. The win avenged a 22-21 loss to the Irish in the season opener Aug. 30. Scioto pulled out the victory in the "Battle of Hard Road" by scoring a touchdown and two-point conversion with 23.2 seconds remaining.
The Wolves went 7-0 in OCC-Capital play to win their first league championship since 2005, when they were in the OCC-Central. New Albany (6-1) placed second, followed by Olentangy (5-2), Mount Vernon (4-3), Delaware (3-4), Big Walnut (2-6), Olentangy Orange (1-7) and Franklin Heights (0-8).
Kilbourne defeated host New Albany 14-12 on Oct. 25. The Eagles were ranked first in the state poll at the time.
"Our goal from the beginning was to win the league and make the playoffs, and we did that," senior slotback and cornerback Seth Hill said. "This senior class was special and we can hold our heads high knowing we put Kilbourne back on the map again."
Hill was named first-team all-district on defense and shared OCC-Capital Player of the Year honors with New Albany's Hayden Hatten and Mount Vernon's J.D. Orr.
Wilson and senior center Joe Schick also made first-team all-district. Making second-team all-district were senior running back Justin Stoner, senior linebacker Josh Happ and senior cornerback Chandler Bridges. Senior defensive end D.J. Freer was special mention all-district and senior nose guard Gavin Elifritz, juniors defensive back Dominic Brown and junior quarterback Griffin Dahn were honorable mention.
First-team all-league honors went to Bridges, Freer, Happ, Hill, Schick and Wilson.
Brown, Elifritz, Stoner and senior offensive tackle Alex Meehan made second-team all-league, with Dahn and junior offensive tackle and defensive lineman J.C. Bartok making special mention and senior defensive end Mason Rigio making honorable mention.
"It was a very rewarding season because these (22) seniors were fantastic leaders and hard workers who were goal-oriented and would do anything we asked them to do to achieve success," Trombetti said. "We also had many young guys step up and fill roles at times due to injuries. Because the seniors worked so hard, these young guys saw what it takes and hopefully will follow in their footsteps and continue to play Kilbourne football."
During the regular season, Stoner (158 carries, 922 yards and 14 touchdowns) led Kilbourne in rushing and Dahn rushed for 545 yards and five touchdowns on 120 carries and completed 56 of 116 passes for 925 yards with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Reinhart had 13 catches for 267 yards and two touchdowns. Hill also had 13 receptions for 226 yards and rushed for 231 yards and three touchdowns on 44 carries and sophomore slotback Isaiah Young had 10 catches for 66 yards and ran for 260 yards and two scores on 45 carries.
In addition to Bartok, Brown, Dahn and Young, among those expected to return are juniors Grayson Biglin (LB), Joe Davis (slotback), Luke Hackathorne (LB), Rafael Herrera (WR), Johnny Mack (DB) and Ahjallah Williams (OL).