The Hilliard Darby High School football team finally succumbed to its spate of injuries, falling to top-seeded Centerville 35-0 in the first round of the Division I, Region 3 playoffs Nov. 3.
The eighth-seeded Panthers played a strong first half, particularly on defense, and trailed 7-0 at halftime.
The Panthers drove 54 yards on the first possession of the game before fumbling on first-and-goal at the Elks' 6-yard line. Darby never seriously threatened to score again.
"We held our own in the first half, especially defensively," said coach John Santagata, whose team finished 7-4. "We started the game well with a nice drive and we fumbled it away at the 5-yard line.
"When you're playing shorthanded like we were, you have to capitalize on every opportunity and we didn't do that. But we gave it the Darby effort and hung in there in the first half. I couldn't be prouder of a group of kids than this one with the way they fought through this much adversity just to get here."
The Panthers fought hard through injuries all season.
Darby lost defensive back Ian Coverstone, defensive end Bobbie Lewis and running back Canyon Uphouse to injuries in a 22-3 win over Dublin Scioto in its regular-season finale Oct. 27 after losing kicker Blake Sawicki to injury two days earlier during the boys soccer team's Division I district semifinal against St. Charles and defensive end Donta Ashcraft to injury a few days earlier in practice.
"We lost 14 or 15 guys to injuries this year and a few (injured players) made it back tonight, but (some of them) re-aggravated those injuries," Santagata said.
Defensively against Centerville, Matt Leder recovered a fumble and Taj Long intercepted a pass.
Santos finishes 28th at state meet
Daniella Santos of the girls cross country team did not have the finish she had hoped for in the Division I state meet Nov. 4 at National Trail Raceway.
In her first state appearance, the sophomore placed 28th of 173 runners in 18 minutes, 36.4 seconds.
"I wanted to make the top 20 to be all-state, so I was a little disappointed," Santos said. "Overall, it was a good experience and I think I can learn from it. I put my nose in the race and did my best. I just wish I would have gone out a little quicker and stayed with the front girls longer and just seen if I could hang on. I would feel better if I gave myself that chance. I thought I closed pretty well."
Sydney Seymour of Cleveland St. Joseph placed 20th in 18:26.9.
"I know there was more strong competition, but the race didn't feel like any race I ran all season," Santos said. "I'm going to train harder, eat better and listen even more to my coaches. I want to become more invested in the (whole process)."
Santos qualified for state by placing eighth (18:45.55) of 129 runners in the regional meet Oct. 28 at Pickerington North, where the top five teams and top 20 runners advanced.
The Panthers placed 13th (305 points) of 17 teams, behind champion Granville (63).
Also competing for Darby at regional were senior Abby Cannon (59th, 20:21), senior Anita Perie (61st, 20:22.27), junior Madison Murphy (109th, 21:36.93), senior Jordyn Miller (110th, 21:46.72), junior Erin Cowen (118th, 22:19.72) and sophomore Ariana Parquette (119th, 22:19.73).
Darby advanced to regional by finishing fourth (117) in the 16-team district 2 race Oct. 21 at Watkins Memorial, as Santos won the title (18:20.58).
Santos also won the OCC-Cardinal Division title, finishing in 18:28.33 as the host Panthers (74) finished second in the league meet Oct. 14, behind Thomas Worthington (47) and ahead of Bradley (88), Dublin Jerome (94), Worthington Kilbourne (101), Dublin Scioto (110) and Delaware (158).
"I thought Daniella did a great job and I'm happy with the overall progression of the team throughout the year," said first-year coach Jon Agriesti, whose team will be losing three of its top seven runners to graduation. "It was a good starting point and I think we're only going to get better as a program."
The boys team ended its season at regional, where the Panthers placed 15th (334) of 16 teams, behind champion Davidson (59).
Senior Dylan Newport finished 56th (17:06.86) of 129 runners to lead the Panthers. Also in the lineup were freshman Sean Carney (75th, 17:24.09), junior Eric Lowery (82nd, 17:32.12), junior Owen Martin (91st, 17:41.36), sophomore Balaji Kurapati (105th, 17:53.31), sophomore Tyler Hessenauer (111th, 18:00.85) and senior Josh Baldridge (119th, 18:10.44).
Darby placed sixth (168) in the 16-team district 3 race Oct. 21 at Watkins Memorial, behind champion Olentangy Liberty (49), to earn the final regional berth.
The Panthers finished third (81) in the league meet, behind Thomas (35) and Jerome (61) and ahead of Scioto (83), Kilbourne (108), Bradley (143) and Delaware (224).
Darby will be losing two of its top seven runners to graduation.
Girls soccer team falls to Patriots
The girls soccer team lost to Liberty 3-2 in a Division I regional semifinal Oct. 31 at Westerville Central to finish 13-4-3 overall.
Darby trailed 2-0 early in the second half before sophomore forward Naomi Walters scored. After the Patriots extended their lead back to two goals, junior forward/midfielder Aaliyah Brletic scored to cut the Panthers' deficit to 3-2 with 12:14 remaining.
Darby had several shots in the final two minutes, including one that hit a post, but couldn't get the equalizer.
"Sometimes this happens in soccer," coach Dan Brady said. "We outplayed them, doubled up our (scoring) chances, but couldn't finish. We possessed better. We did everything but score more goals than them. I just don't think the better team won tonight, but the scoreboard determined the outcome."
Still, the Panthers won their second district title and first since 1997. They beat third-seeded Gahanna 3-2 in a district final Oct. 28 at Westerville North, scoring two goals in the final 13 minutes. Junior midfielder Abbey Spencer scored the game-winning goal with 2:19 left after Brletic had tied it at 2 with 12:48 remaining off a crossing pass from senior defender Brynn Miller.
"In the last three seasons, Darby went from being a perennial losing program to a winning program, compiling a 39-11-7 record with a district title and two district runner-up showings," Brady said. "We have finished second in the OCC-Cardinal to Dublin Jerome all three years.
"Winning the district (title) is a special accomplishment and one that the girls were determined to win after falling short the last two years. We came from behind twice in both the semifinal and final on sheer will and perseverance."
Seeded seventh in the district tournament, Darby beat 12th-seeded New Albany 3-2 in a district semifinal Oct. 24 as senior midfielder Blair Cowan scored on a penalty kick with under 8 minutes remaining after junior forward Sophia Roberts was fouled in the box.
The Panthers beat 40th-seeded Westland 12-0 in the second round Oct. 19 after having a first-round bye.
Darby went 5-1 in the OCC-Cardinal to finish second, behind Jerome (5-0-1) and ahead of Bradley (3-2-1), Thomas (2-3-1), Delaware and Scioto (both 1-3-2) and Kilbourne (0-5-1).
The Panthers are losing eight seniors, including Cowan, Miller, midfielder Olivia Kane and defender Hannah Knobloch, as well as forward Emily Radcliff, who injured a knee in the preseason and returned late in the season.
Cowan, an Ohio State commit, was named first-team all-league and all-district. Knobloch was first-team all-league and third-team all-district, Kane was special mention all-league and Miller was honorable mention all-league.
Expected to return after starting this season are Brletic, Roberts, juniors Natalie Brown (defender), Emily Schneck (goalkeeper), Cassidy Webber (defender) and Allison Williams (midfielder).
Schneck, Webber and Williams all were second-team all-league.
Other letterwinners expected to return are Spencer, junior Caitlyn Spencer (midfielder), sophomores Teddi Coe (defender), Zayna Hampton (defender) and Carli Rigel (midfielder) and freshman Maddy Leone (forward).
"With seven returning starters, coupled with the talent of the additional six letterwinners, I must say I feel we will continue to be a force in the Central District," Brady said.
District title thrills boys soccer team
The boys soccer team trailed Dublin Coffman 2-0 at halftime and could not recover during a 5-1 loss in a Division I regional semifinal Nov. 1 at Bradley.
The Panthers, who finished 10-5-6 overall, trailed 4-0 in the second half before junior defender Dan Djelmis scored on a penalty kick.
The Shamrocks went on to win the regional title.
The Panthers were seeded 10th in the district tournament and defeated seventh-seeded Marysville 1-0 on Oct. 28 at Westerville North for their first district championship. Senior forward Jason Fleischman scored with 36:06 left in the first half.
"Winning a district title for the first time in school history was huge," coach Kyle Reichle said. "The seniors left their mark and this is a direct reflection of their leadership and hard work as a group. They set the bar high and winning district is no longer something new to the guys. It's a goal to reach in future years as well. I want this to be an expectation for the program."
Darby defeated 37th-seeded Columbus West 3-0 in the first round Oct. 18, 24th-seeded Big Walnut 1-0 in overtime in the second round Oct. 21 and fourth-seeded St. Charles 2-1 in a district semifinal Oct. 25 as senior midfielder Ty Spangler scored the winning goal.
"This being my second season as coach, I wanted to see growth from last year and I sure did," Reichle said. "It was unique that after 10 games, we didn't have a loss yet (5-0-5). Once we got the first loss, we were able to learn and grow from it."
Darby went 2-2-2 in the OCC-Cardinal to place fifth, behind Jerome (5-0-1), Kilbourne (3-1-2), Bradley and Thomas (both 3-3) and ahead of Delaware (2-3-1) and Scioto (0-6).
The Panthers are losing six seniors, all starters, in Fleischman, Spangler, Jack Gearhiser (midfielder), Josh Govine (defender), Tyler Stitzel (defender) and Blake Sawicki (forward).
Fleischman was named first-team all-league and second-team all-district. Sawicki was special mention all-league and Gearhiser was honorable mention all-league.
Expected returnees include Djelmis, juniors Nick Hermosilla (goalie), Jackson Janetski (forward), Matt Mills (midfielder) and Matthew Toplikar (defender) and sophomore Zach Jasper (forward).
Djelmis was second-team all-league.
"We have five returning starters next season and a lot of young guys who are hungry to compete for a starting spot," Reichle said. "I'm interested to see how they mature and develop in the offseason."