New Albany High School football coach Pat Samanich's final speech to this year's team mixed encouragement and self-deprecation.
Samanich did not want his players, some of whom were crying after a 24-6 loss to Massillon Washington in the Division II, Region 7 final Nov. 17 at Arlin Field in Mansfield, to forget they were one of the last eight teams standing in the state despite starting 1-3.
He also reminded them that few coaches and teams are happy when the season ends.
"I've been in the playoffs nine times (as a head coach or assistant coach) and never won my last game," Samanich said during his postgame speech.
The fifth-seeded Eagles, who were in their fourth regional final in six years and seeking their third regional championship, rarely gained traction against second-seeded Massillon. New Albany was outgained 508-140, had the ball for 16 minutes, 25 seconds compared to 31:35 for Massillon and trailed 24-0 before getting their only score on a punt that was blocked and then taken in for a touchdown by junior wide receiver/linebacker Jack Scharfe.
"They did a great job of making our best difficult," Samanich said. "We got some things going and then we'd stall out or they'd make a play. It was one of those nights, but they played their scheme on defense very well. They're well-coached and their kids know their roles."
New Albany, which finished 8-5 overall, won regional titles in 2012 and 2006.
Junior running back Michiah Burton and junior wide receiver Luke Muter, who had arguably their best games of the season in the Eagles' two playoff wins -- victories over fourth-seeded Whitehall (42-35) in the first round Nov. 3 and top-seeded Walnut Ridge (30-6) in a regional semifinal Nov. 10 at Westerville South -- were bottled up by Massillon's defense.
Burton, who had a combined 389 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 46 carries in those two wins, was held to 32 yards on 11 carries. Muter caught two passes for 14 yards after amassing 134 yards and four touchdowns on seven receptions the previous two weeks.
Scharfe blocked Massillon's only punt attempt of the game and returned it 13 yards for a touchdown with 9:29 to go.
"Other guys took up blockers, I saw the gap and got there," Scharfe said. "I got the block, the ball was kind of fumbling around and then it squirted out. I picked it up and ran with it."
New Albany started 1-3 for the second consecutive year, holding off Reynoldsburg 15-13 in its opener Aug. 24 before losses to Hilliard Bradley (42-6 on Sept. 1), Licking Heights (35-30 on Sept. 8) and Gahanna (40-20 on Sept. 15).
Rallying for a 27-26 overtime win over Westerville North on Sept. 22 helped set the rest of the season in motion, around the time that senior Jalin Jackson took over at quarterback after classmate and incumbent starter Paxon Hunter left the team for personal reasons.
Wins followed in OCC-Capital Division play over Canal Winchester (23-3 on Sept. 30), Newark (40-6 on Oct. 6), Franklin Heights (55-36 on Oct. 20) and Groveport (27-20 on Oct. 27). The only bump in the road was a 14-0 loss at Big Walnut on Oct. 13 that temporarily looked as if it might derail the Eagles' hopes for a league championship, but New Albany earned its share on the final night of the regular season when it defeated Groveport and Big Walnut lost to Canal Winchester.
The Eagles and Golden Eagles both went 4-1 in the OCC-Capital, ahead of Canal Winchester (3-2), Franklin Heights (3-2), Newark (1-4) and Groveport (0-5).
Burton rushed for 1,252 yards and 14 touchdowns on 217 carries, all team bests, to receive first-team all-league and all-district honors.
Jackson completed 43 of 75 passes for 727 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions and also rushed for 280 yards and four touchdowns on 61 carries. He was first-team all-league along with seniors Logan Cook (OL/DL), Will King (TE/DL) and Jametrius Yarbrough (WR/DB) and juniors Scharfe and Jack Wilson (OL/LB).
Muter finished with 28 catches for 446 yards and six touchdowns and was second-team all-league along with seniors Zach Paragas (K), Alex Smithers (WR/DB), Zack Thomas (WR/DB) and Ty Ward (RB/LB) and junior running back/defensive back Gabe Owusu-Antwi. Thomas caught 16 passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns.
Junior two-way linemen Billy Lee and Jack Irvine were special mention and honorable mention all-league, respectively.
Cook and King were named first-team all-district. Paragas was second-team all-district, Scharfe and Wilson were special mention all-district and Yarbrough was honorable mention all-district.
Junior running back Alex Cox added 619 yards and four touchdowns on 123 carries.
"This sting will go away. They fought hard," Samanich said. "We went three games (deep into the playoffs) with this team. I'm proud of that. They left a legacy of grit and tenacity."