With just three returning starters on offense, the Gahanna Lincoln High School football team is as inexperienced on that side of the ball as at any time since Bruce Ward took over as coach in 2014.

That season, the Lions opened with a 40-0 loss to Huber Heights Wayne and lost to Westerville South 34-17 in Week 2 before bouncing back to win their next seven games and make the Division I, Region 2 playoffs.

Gahanna opened with a blowout loss this season as well, falling 31-0 at Cincinnati Elder on Aug. 24, and then played perennial Division I playoff qualifier Dublin Coffman on Aug. 31 in its home opener.

"We can't go anywhere but up," Ward said. "If you see the score (of the Elder game), you'd be like, 'What happened?' But it wasn't all bad. For most of our offense, it was their first Friday night game and to open up at Elder in 'The Pit,' that's rough."

One of Gahanna's three returning starters, senior lineman A'che Sanchez-Baccus, sustained an ankle injury against Elder and was questionable heading into the Coffman game.

He is expected to be available Friday, Sept. 7, when the Lions play host to Springboro.

According to Ward, when the 2018 schedule was being formulated, Gahanna considered adding Marion-Franklin before opting to play Springboro instead.

The Panthers made five consecutive playoff appearances from 2012-16 before finishing 5-5 last season, although they won four of their final five games.

Springboro opened with a 10-6 loss to Mason on Aug. 24 and played Middletown on Aug. 31.

"We were just missing a game and Marion-Franklin is going to be pretty good, but they're a City League team in Division III and, if we beat Springboro, we'd get Division I points," Ward said.

Springboro was held to 177 yards of offense by Mason as quarterback Landon Palmer completed 11 of 30 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown, Timmy Keseday rushed 16 times for 66 yards and Eric Myers had four receptions for 21 yards and one score.

Despite giving up 31 points, Ward wasn't down about his team's defense against Elder as senior defensive back LaCarr Trent had two interceptions and senior linebackers David Williams and Zajdi Hoxha produced 18 and 11 tackles, respectively.

Gahanna also kept the Panthers out of the end zone after giving its opponent good field position during the final minute of the first half.

Junior quarterback Will Thomas, who was making his first start, threw for 45 yards and rushed for 28 as the Lions were limited to 100 yards of offense on 36 plays.

"All is not lost, but obviously we need to worry about what we're doing rather than our opponent," Ward said. "I thought we left a lot of positive plays on the field, a better block here, a better decision there and it's there. We've got a young quarterback. For us, it's finishing some plays and working on our execution. Sometimes you get blanketed and you walk out and there's no hope, but that's not the case. We've just got to get moving."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek