After a 2-0 start in which the New Albany High School football team outscored its opponents by a combined 40 points -- and in spite of both a four-game winning streak to finish the season and earning more computer points than a year ago -- coach Bubba Kidwell probably could not have envisioned himself saying the season "was not what we had planned."
Ultimately, the Eagles' few slipups cost them both the OCC-Capital Division championship and a third consecutive trip to the Division II, Region 7 playoffs.
New Albany went 7-3 overall and 4-1 in the league, finishing second behind Canal Winchester (5-0). The Eagles were in mathematical contention for a playoff spot until the final night of the regular season but finished 13th in Region 7 with 20.15 points as the top eight teams made the playoffs.
Last year, New Albany went 6-4 and was the fifth seed in the region with 17 points before advancing to the regional final.
"We finished the year strong, but it was not what we had planned," said Kidwell, who was in his first season as head coach after 14 seasons as a New Albany assistant, including the previous five as defensive coordinator. "They had high goals as players and so did we as a coaching staff. Our 7-3 record was (tied for) our best record since 2013. We had more computer points than last year, but we did not have much room for error.
"Even late in the season when we knew we didn't have a great shot at the playoffs, they could have hung it up but they kept giving their best effort and they finished well."
New Albany also went 7-3 during the regular season in 2016, the first time it had qualified for the playoffs in three years.
After routing host Westerville South 31-7 in their opener Aug. 24 and pulling away from Dublin Scioto for a 37-21 win Aug. 30, the Eagles dropped back to .500 with losses to Licking Heights (27-24 in their home opener Sept. 7) and Gahanna (41-40 in double overtime Sept. 14).
New Albany finished non-league play with a 30-18 win at Olentangy on Sept. 21 before losing 30-28 to Canal Winchester in its OCC-Capital opener Sept. 28. The Eagles rallied from a 27-7 deficit in the third quarter before missing on a two-point conversion attempt that would have sent the game to overtime.
New Albany rebounded to sweep the rest of the OCC-Capital, defeating Newark (35-6 on Oct. 5), Big Walnut (41-7 on Oct. 12), Franklin Heights (32-6 on Oct. 19) and Groveport (24-10 on Oct. 26).
"Our initial thinking was we'd need to go 8-2 or 9-1 to get in (to the playoffs), whereas last year, we got in at 6-4," Kidwell said. "We let a few games get away, but that helped reinforce that we need to take care of little things. If that hadn't happened, we might have been in a situation to control our own destiny."
Senior running back Michiah Burton rushed for 1,346 yards and 15 touchdowns on 194 carries and was named league Offensive Player of the Year despite battling a hamstring injury early in the season.
"We played him in games but limited him in practice," Kidwell said. "He'll be tough to replace. We might have to use a combination of running backs (early next season), a handful of guys, until we figure things out."
Senior Alex Cox added 110 carries for 703 yards and six touchdowns and caught seven passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns, and junior Reed Hall had 53 carries for 316 yards and three scores.
In his only year as starting quarterback, senior Luke Muter completed 55 of 102 passes for 763 yards with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions and rushed for 242 yards and two scores on 44 carries.
Junior Brody Kidwell caught eight passes for 131 yards and four touchdowns and led the team in interceptions with two as a defensive back. He had 58 total tackles, tied for second on the team with senior linebacker Jack Scharfe behind senior linebacker Brode White's 75.
Senior defensive end/tight end Will King, an Akron commit, and White each had 6.5 sacks.
King, senior punter Michael O'Shaughnessy, Scharfe, White and senior lineman Jack Wilson were named first-team all-league. Cox, senior lineman Jack Irvine, Kidwell, senior lineman Mo Minard, Muter and senior kicker Grant Rogers were second-team all-league, junior tight end Patrick Gurd (8 catches, 143 yards, 2 TDs) were special mention all-league and senior lineman Mason Mathias was honorable mention all-league.
Shaughnessy averaged 37.2 yards per punt and is a Football Bowl Subdivision recruit.
Other expected returnees include juniors Luke Dovell (LB), Kingston Mabatah (RB), Trevor Upp (DB), Tony Walters (DL) and Dominic Zappitelli (DB) and sophomore offensive tackle Kevin Spelman.
According to Kidwell, sophomore Brock Tibbitts is a contender to succeed Muter as starting quarterback.