Hilliard Bradley High School football coach Mike LoParo stood in the south end zone Nov. 10 at DeSales talking to his team after its banner season had come to a close.
The second-seeded Jaguars lost to third-seeded Pickerington Central 42-31 in a Division I, Region 3 semifinal that night to finish 11-1 overall, but the loss didn't take away from their accomplishments this season.
Bradley finished the regular season 10-0 for the first time and won its first playoff game by defeating seventh-seeded Kettering Fairmont 49-14 in the opening round Nov. 3 at home. In addition, the Jaguars won their first outright league championship.
Bradley captured its second consecutive OCC-Cardinal Division title, going 6-0 in the league to finish ahead of Dublin Jerome (5-1), Darby (4-2), Dublin Scioto (3-3), Worthington Kilbourne (2-4), Delaware (1-5) and Thomas Worthington (0-6).
"I think it's one of those deals that it's pretty emotional when it ends," said LoParo, who completed his seventh season with the Jaguars. "Everyone was upset and everyone wanted to continue a bit more, but they were also happy with what we accomplished. They were able to hold their heads high and be proud of what we were able to do."
Central intercepted senior quarterback Josh Stewart four times, scoring 28 points off those turnovers. Stewart, who had thrown only six interceptions through 11 games, was 11-for-25 passing for 135 yards and one touchdown.
"I think our pass rush helped a little, but I think our defensive backs were able to get into a rhythm into (the Jaguars') pass patterns and how fast (Stewart's) delivery is," Tigers coach Jay Sharrett said. "He's an accurate passer and we did a couple of step-in-fronts and got some interceptions."
Stewart led the Jaguars in rushing against Central with 69 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Senior wide receiver Kory Taylor caught five passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns, and senior wide receiver Daevon Anderson had four receptions for 42 yards.
Anderson was named first-team all-district and league Offensive Player of the Year with 65 receptions for 1,242 yards and 13 touchdowns. He finished his career with a program-record 2,312 yards receiving on 142 catches and 28 touchdowns.
Stewart, who transferred from Kilbourne in the offseason, was 166-for-249 passing for 2,515 yards with 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and rushed for 512 yards and nine touchdowns on 110 carries. He was named first-team all-district and all-league.
His 2,515 yards passing eclipsed the program's single-season record of 2,508 set last season by 2017 graduate Will Phillis, who is playing at Kent State University. His 27 passing touchdowns tied the program's single-season mark set last season by Phillis.
Taylor, who was second-team all-district and first-team all-league, had 55 catches for 911 yards and nine scores.
The Jaguars are losing 26 seniors, led by Anderson, Stewart and Taylor.
Other key seniors include place-kicker Jacob Castro (honorable mention all-district, first-team all-league; 64-for-64 on PATs, 2-for-2 on FGs), offensive linemen Obi Igwe (second-team all-district and all-league) and Daniel Vazquez (special mention all-district and second-team all-league), defensive back Cole Komlosi (second-team all-league; 76 tackles, 6 for loss, 3 interceptions) and linebackers Adam McCardle (second-team all-district, first-team all-league; 98 tackles, 7.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 interception) and Jack Rondy (second-team all-league; 79 tackles, 5.5 for loss, 5 sacks, 1 interception).
"We had a great group of seniors who leave with a three-year record of 27-6," LoParo said. "They gave us great leadership and they helped bring the program to a new level.
"We're going to lose some big-time players, but we lost some good players last year as well. The kids understand that it's the 'next guy up' mentality."
Leading the list of expected returnees is junior linebacker Cannon Blauser (121 tackles, 15.5 for loss, 3 sacks, 1 interception), who was named first-team all-district and league Defensive Player of the Year.
Griffin Veil looks to step in at quarterback for Stewart. The junior replaced Stewart for the final two possessions against Central, going 2-for-3 passing for 70 yards and two touchdowns. He threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Taylor and a 14-yarder to junior wide receiver Trey Warner.
For the season, Veil completed 13 of 22 passes for 199 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Warner (honorable mention all-district, special mention all-league) had 35 receptions for 338 yards and three touchdowns.
Junior defensive lineman and tight end Zach Hummel (honorable mention all-district, first-team all-league) had 37 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, and three sacks as well as eight catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns.
Junior defensive back Patrick Day (special mention all-league) had 93 tackles and three interceptions, and sophomore defensive end Chris Mayfield (honorable mention all-league) had 42 tackles, including 9.5 for loss, with two sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Junior defensive back Jacob Gore led the team with four interceptions.
The Jaguars also expect to return their top two running backs in juniors Grant Buehl and Jack Richards. Buehl led the team with 647 rushing yards and 10 touchdown on 120 carries, while Richards added 582 yards and 10 scores on 111 carries.
"I'm really excited about what we have going forward," LoParo said. "We'll have to develop in some areas, but we'll be all right."