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."