Having taken firm control of their regular-season finale Oct. 27 at Big Walnut, members of the Canal Winchester High School football team admitted to some new-age scoreboard watching to see whether their season would extend at least one more week.
"At halftime, we were all checking our phones and trying to do the math to figure out what was going to happen," said wide receiver Stanton Smith, whose team led the Golden Eagles 28-6 at halftime on its way to a 38-6 victory. "We were doing it right after the game, too. On the way home, coach (Josh) Stratton turned around and screamed 'we're in' on the bus. Everybody went crazy."
The Indians' lopsided win clinched their first playoff berth and winning season since 2012. At 6-4 overall, Canal Winchester earned the eighth seed in Division II, Region 7 and will visit top-seeded Walnut Ridge in a first-round game Friday, Nov. 3.
The top eight teams in each region make the playoffs.
"My assistant coaches have been here the last four years, some of them for 10 or 15 years, and I'm so happy for the guys who went through 0-10, 1-8, 2-9 and 3-7 (the Indians' records from 2013-16, respectively) and get to experience this. They deserve it," said Stratton, who coached New Richmond to the playoffs each of the past two seasons before being hired at Canal Winchester last December. "One of my coaching buddies reminded me that tough times don't last, but good people do."
Canal Winchester is in the playoffs for the eighth time.
Against Big Walnut, quarterback Jack Beeler completed nine of 17 passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns and scored on a 9-yard run. Tanner Conley rushed for 153 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, and Dominic Davis added 101 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries as the Indians finished 3-2 in the league.
Defensive back Davon Wilson had an interception.
The win also spoiled Big Walnut's hopes of an outright OCC-Capital championship. The Eagles, who started 0-5, finished 4-1 in the league and split the title with New Albany, which earned its share with a 27-20 win over Groveport on Oct. 27.
Canal Winchester was 10th in Region 7 before it got an unexpected boost Oct. 26.
Because Upper Arlington had to forfeit a 24-19 win over Central Crossing on Oct. 20, Westerville South -- which defeated UA 26-0 on Sept. 15 -- lost some second-level points and fell from eighth to 10th while the Indians jumped up to eighth. Dublin Scioto remained ninth but was eliminated when it lost to Hilliard Darby 22-3 on Oct. 27.
Licking Heights and Northland, two other teams that were hovering within striking distance of eighth place, also lost Oct. 27.
The Indians had 15.75 points in the Region 7 computer ratings, just ahead of ninth-place Northland (15.3908).
Walnut Ridge is 8-1, coming off a 44-34 loss to Independence on Oct. 27 that cost it the City League-South Division championship and the first undefeated season since the school opened in 1961.
Scots quarterback Isaiah Murphy completed 10 of 14 passes for 267 yards and four touchdowns -- two to Julius Woods, one to Justin Vance and the other to Qian Magwood. Sincere Staples is the team's top running back.
After allowing 11.4 points per game through the first seven weeks, Walnut Ridge has given up 72 points in its past two games, including a 36-28 win over Marion-Franklin on Oct. 20. Independence scored the final 22 points against the Scots.
"Canal Winchester is a team on the rise and we have to be at the top of our game," said Scots coach Byron Mattox, whose team is averaging 27.9 points. "Defensively, we need to be lined up and tackle well. Offensively, we need to take care of the football, establish a run game and ... capitalize on our big-play capabilities."
The first-round winner will play fourth-seeded Whitehall or fifth-seeded New Albany in a regional semifinal Nov. 10 at a neutral site to be determined.
"This means so much to us," Indians linebacker Matt Kamer said. "This is the biggest thing football-wise so far in my life. We've completely changed the culture."
Girls soccer team falls in district final
The girls soccer team was in a position for an upset win in its first district final appearance, but the 10th-seeded Indians gave up two goals in the final 16 minutes to top-seeded Pickerington North on Oct. 28 at Hartley and lost 2-1 in Division I play.
Although the Panthers dominated possession for the most of the game, the Indians took a 1-0 lead early in the first half when sophomore forward Anaya Edwards scored off a free kick from senior midfielder Grace Koehler.
North's Alicia Donley tied the game on a header with 16 minutes to play, and Tori Haggit scored the game-winner from about 15 yards out with 7 minutes left.
"It was an opportunistic finish," said Indians coach Alex Wentz, whose team finished 13-5-1 overall. "We had a lot of energy and we might have caught (North) sleeping, but we woke the giant after that. We implemented a game plan specific for tonight to defend and attack a little differently than we have, and for the most part, it worked. We gave them a scare."
Canal Winchester won its first OCC-Capital championship, going 4-0-1 to finish ahead of New Albany (3-0-2), Big Walnut (3-1-1), Newark (2-3), Groveport (1-4) and Franklin Heights (0-5).
In the 42-team district tournament, the Indians took a first-round bye before defeating 23rd-seeded Westerville Central 2-1 in double overtime in the second round Oct. 19 at home and 11th-seeded Grove City 2-1 in a semifinal Oct. 24.
Junior forward McKenna Sullivan scored a team-high nine goals. Senior forward Madison Dutton added eight goals, followed by sophomore forward Lexi Snider with seven and senior midfielder Hillary Counts with six.
The Indians are losing 11 seniors, including both of their goalkeepers in Delaney Hippler and Alaina Reher.
Other expected returnees include junior Morgan Reeb (defender) and sophomores Sydney Byrd (defender) and Angela Postage (defender/midfielder).
"We're building a foundation and we expect to be back here," Wentz said. "We had a ton of seniors who provided leadership and quality play. The girls had tenacity and they've bought in to what we're trying to install."
Bormann finishes 58th at regional
Competing in her first Division I regional meet Oct. 28 at Pickerington North, girls cross country runner Paige Bormann learned an important lesson early.
"These girls start out fast and just don't stop running fast. Trying to keep up was a challenge," said Bormann, a senior. "During the regular season, you see people start fast and then die off. That did not happen here. But I'm happy to have made it this far and be able to keep the season going for my team."
Bormann, the Indians' only regional qualifier, finished 58th (20:19.84) of 129 runners, as the top 20 individuals advanced to the state meet Saturday, Nov. 4, at National Trail Raceway.
The boys and girls teams both expect to return several of their top runners from a season in which they finished in the middle of the pack in the OCC-Capital and fell short of regional as teams.
In the league meet Oct. 14 at Lancaster, Bormann finished third (21:17.14) to lead the girls to 56 points and a third-place finish, behind New Albany (40) and Big Walnut (46) and ahead of Newark (109) and Groveport (126). The boys, led by junior Will Butler's seventh-place finish (17:52.16), also were third (79), behind Newark (31) and New Albany (35) and ahead of Big Walnut (102) and Groveport (121).
In the 18-team district 3 meet Oct. 21 at Watkins Memorial, Bormann finished 18th (19:47.32) to earn an individual regional berth as the Indians finished seventh (214) behind champion Hilliard Davidson (25). The top six teams and top 24 individuals advanced to regional.
The boys finished 10th (267) in the 17-team district 2 meet behind champion Pickerington North (56). The top five teams and top 20 individuals advanced.
Butler was the boys team's top runner four times and its second-place runner on four other occasions this season. He is among a group of expected returnees that also includes sophomores Reece Klamorick and Drew Kotwis and freshmen Nate Hoffman, Michael McKeon and Brett Smithers.
The girls team is losing four other top runners in Erica Babusci, a University of Pittsburgh commit, as well as Katelyn Genther, Kassidy Pastor and Kaitlyn Swearingen. Also expected to return from the Indians' top seven are junior Bethany Hinkle and freshmen Bonnie Butler, Erin Duckworth, Allena Klamorick and Merideth McFarland.
Boys soccer team falls to Wildcats
The boys soccer team's season came to an end Oct. 25 with a 3-0 loss at sixth-seeded Westerville South in a Division I district semifinal.
Junior goalkeeper Tristan Graber made five saves for the 15th-seeded Indians, who finished 10-5-3 overall.
Canal Winchester had not allowed a goal in its first two games of the 47-team district tournament, beating 31st-seeded Mount Vernon 1-0 (5-4 on penalty kicks) in the first round Oct. 18 and 38th-seeded Briggs 9-0 in the second round Oct. 21.
The Indians went 3-1-1 in the OCC-Capital to finish second, behind New Albany (5-0) and ahead of Big Walnut (3-2), Franklin Heights (2-3), Groveport (1-3-1) and Newark (0-5).
Canal Winchester is losing 13 seniors. Graber and junior forward Will Jenkins are among the Indians' expected returnees.