According to senior Herman Moultrie, the Columbus Academy football team responded to skeptics by earning its most wins since 2003.
The Vikings finished 9-3 overall with a 35-16 loss to top-seeded Wheelersburg in a Division V, Region 19 semifinal Nov. 10 at Chillicothe.
Fifth-seeded Academy led 13-0 at halftime, giving Wheelersburg its first two-score deficit this season. The Pirates improved to 12-0 and will play Johnstown in the regional final Friday, Nov. 17, at Chillicothe.
The Vikings earned their first postseason win in 11 years and enjoyed their best season since 2003, when they won the Division V state title and finished 13-2.
"(The playoff loss) was rough for me," said Moultrie, a running back and defensive back. "I don't handle losing very well and it hit me after the game that it was my last high school game. I've had time to reflect on the season and I realize how special it was because coming into the season we had a lot of question marks. A lot of people didn't know how good we'd be. ... We had a fantastic season and we were able to prove a lot of people wrong."
Against Wheelersburg, senior Josh Pearson scored on a 10-yard run and sophomore Sam Massick kicked field goals of 34 and 50 yards to give the Vikings their halftime lead.
The Pirates took advantage of three second-half turnovers to fuel their comeback.
After Massick's 19-yard field goal gave Academy a 16-7 lead in the third quarter, Wheelersburg outscored the Vikings 28-0 the rest of the way.
"They fought to the end," coach Robin Miller said. "It's a great team. We took a lot of strides this year. We knew that (Wheelersburg) was awfully talented and they had a tremendous second half. They threw a few more punches than we could handle and hats off to them."
Academy earned its first league title since 2009 as it shared the MSL-Ohio Division championship with London and Whitehall at 4-1, ahead of Grandview (2-3), Liberty Union (1-4) and Bexley (0-5).
In 2009, the Vikings shared the MSL-Ohio title with Granville.
Moultrie led the Vikings by rushing for 1,194 yards and 14 touchdowns on 214 carries and adding 34 receptions for 428 yards and four scores. He was named first-team all-district and all-league.
Junior Dorrian Moultrie (WR/DB), Herman's brother, also was named first-team all-district and all-league after catching 60 passes for 608 yards and seven touchdowns.
Pearson (RB/LB) was first-team all-district and all-league, rushing for 400 yards and four touchdowns on 72 carries.
Massick connected on 14 of 18 field-goal attempts and 40 of 41 extra points to receive first-team all-district and all-league recognition.
Senior quarterback Matt Saling was first-team all-district and second-team all-league after completing 146 of 253 passes for 1,507 yards with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
"I'm proud of the team because we never quit in any game," Saling said.
Senior John Schiano (RB/LB) was first-team all-district and second-team all-league, junior Dalyn DeCree was second-team all-district and all-league and senior Matt Schiano (WR/DB) was second-team all-league and special/honorable mention all-district.
Matt Schiano had 13 catches for 221 yards and three touchdowns. He and John are twins and the sons of Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano.
Senior Davis Friedman (OL/LB) and juniors Chris Boyle (TE/DL) and Deven Cobb (OL/DL) were honorable mention all-league.
Miller shared league Coach of the Year honors with London's Kyle Cutler and Whitehall's Rod Lightfoot.
Along with sharing the league title, Saling said other highlights included defeating Bexley 38-7 on Sept. 28 and edging fourth-seeded Belmont Union Local 13-6 in the first round of the playoffs Nov. 3.
The victory over Union Local was Academy's first postseason win since 2006 when it defeated Nelsonville-York 55-21 in the first round.
"I had never beaten Bexley," Saling said. "Granted they were having a down year (finishing 0-10), but we beat Bexley and that's a huge thing for us. And winning the MSL was another really big thing, and winning our first playoff game in 11 years, that's neat, too."
Young volleyball team gained experience
With a roster that had only one senior in Khloe Dubenion, the girls volleyball team finished 7-12 overall.
Seeded 22nd for the Division III district tournament, the Vikings lost at fourth-seeded Galion Northmor 25-14, 25-9, 25-12 in the first round Oct. 17.
"This year's team was very young, as it consisted of seven sophomores, four juniors and one senior," coach Heather Gepper said. "Most had very little varsity experience, but there's a lot of young talent."
Junior Kayla Podgurski (first-team all-league) had a team-high 84 kills and 73 aces along with 70 assists and 13 blocks. Sophomore Sophia Freytag (second-team all-league) had a team-high 238 digs.
Sophomore Sara Edwards was honorable mention all-league. Sophomore Noelle Boltz led the Vikings in assists with 142 and added 29 aces, and junior Camille Reeves had a team-high 28 blocks.
Others eligible to return are juniors Courtney Batchelor and Maddie McAfee and sophomores Sasha Ahern, Mabry Nichols, Mackenzie Smith and Carolyn Zhang.
Academy went 3-7 in the MSL-Ohio to finish fourth behind London (10-0), Worthington Christian (8-2) and Whitehall (6-4) and ahead of Bexley (2-8) and Grandview (1-9).