A stellar season had a heartbreaking finish for the Olentangy Orange High School football team.
In the opening round of the Division I, Region 2 playoffs Nov. 3, the third-seeded Pioneers and sixth-seeded Gahanna battled into overtime before the visiting Lions escaped with a 38-37 win.
Senior running back Jack Applegate had 152 yards rushing and three touchdowns to lead Orange, and senior quarterback Luke Schmeling added 119 yards on the ground and one score on 19 carries. Schmeling also was 8-for-16 passing for 129 yards and one touchdown.
Applegate had a 4-yard touchdown run in overtime, but the tying extra-point attempt by senior kicker Grant Simon was wide right.
"That's playoff football," said coach Zebb Schroeder, who completed his fourth season. "We knew going in that it was inevitable they would score points with that offense. Our big thing was that we couldn't get that two-possession lead."
Orange finished 9-2 overall and placed second (4-1) in the OCC-Buckeye Division behind Liberty (5-0) and ahead of Olentangy (3-2), Westerville Central (2-3), Westerville South (1-4) and Westerville North (0-5).
The Pioneers' only regular-season loss also was by one point, 25-24 to Liberty on Oct. 20.
"We were two points from being undefeated right now," Schroeder said. "It's a credit to our kids because they expect to win. That's where they have taken the program. Our locker room will benefit from our seniors' mentality. It's been a fun ride."
Senior linebacker Bryce Houston was league co-Defensive Player of the Year with Olentangy's Jacob Slade. The Ohio University recruit led the Pioneers with 56 tackles and had 9.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and four forced fumbles, but missed the final two games after suffering a right knee injury in the final minutes against Liberty.
Schmeling (first-team all-league) completed 86 of 158 passes for 1,200 yards with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions. He also rushed for 498 yards and five touchdowns on 85 carries.
Applegate (second-team all-league) rushed for 748 yards and 16 touchdowns on 130 carries, and senior running back Graham Starn (second-team all-league) rushed for 719 yards and eight touchdowns on 138 carries.
Senior wide receiver Manny Anderson (second-team all-league) had 34 catches for 520 yards and five touchdowns, while senior Jayden Rodgers (WR/DB) had 18 receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns along with two interceptions, 20.5 tackles and 11 pass breakups.
Leading the 27-player senior class were Anderson, Applegate, Zane Fisher (LB; second-team all-league; 54.5 tackles, 9.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries), Nate Gadrim (OL; first-team all-league), Houston, Jack Houston (DL; 22.5 tackles, 6 tackles for loss), Jack Neer (LB; 2 interceptions), Nathan Parker (OL; honorable mention all-league), Rodgers, Grant Runyon (DB; second-team all-league; 41 tackles, 2 interceptions), Schmeling, Jimmy Sensibaugh (DB; 43.5 tackles, 2 interceptions), Simon (first-team all-league; 9-for-13 field goals, 42-for-47 extra points), Starn and Jake Zinn (OL; special mention all-league).
"We knew we would have some success," Applegate said. "We have a group of seniors who love each other. We are practically family and absolutely are best friends. We'll always be connected with each other."
Junior defensive end Zach Harrison (first-team all-league) led Orange with 18.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks on 34.5 total tackles. At tight end, he had nine receptions for 173 yards and four touchdowns.
Other expected returnees on defense are junior lineman Brant Kightlinger (28 tackles, 12 for loss, 4 sacks) and sophomore lineman Zach Hill (21.5 tackles, 3 for loss, 1.5 sacks).
Junior slotback Mark Roberts is the top expected returnee in the backfield after rushing for 360 yards and two touchdowns on 47 carries.
Juniors Ryan Duffy, Zach Stevenson and Jeff Sullivan are expected back on the offensive line, and junior Kyle Sessamen is expected to return on the defensive line.
"All three classes coming back have been successful at both the j.v. and freshman levels," Schroeder said. "Every class has 10 to 15 good football players and I like what I see from their physicality."