Last week included perhaps Canal Winchester High School football coach Josh Stratton's least favorite activity -- collecting equipment as the offseason began.

Despite winning three more games than in 2017, capturing their first league championship in six years and not losing after an opening-week stumble against Thomas Worthington, the Indians fell short of their second consecutive playoff appearance in a tough Division II, Region 7.

Canal Winchester went 9-1 overall, including 5-0 in the OCC-Capital Division, but finished ninth in the region, .0247 of a point shy of the eighth and final playoff spot.

"I had Saturday and Sunday (after the season finale) to process everything and decompress, but it doesn't help when everybody you see brings it up," Stratton said. "Even though our season didn't go on longer, I think we're really established as a program. Everybody continued to improve."

Led in part by junior quarterback Jack Beeler and freshman running back Stephan Byrd, the Indians averaged 30.3 points and 466.9 yards per game. Defensively, senior linebacker Darren Davis' team-high 123 tackles paced a unit whose starters allowed an average of 10.6 points per game, according to Stratton.

The top three seeds in Region 7 -- Massillon Washington, Barberton and Wadsworth, respectively -- all finished the regular season at 10-0. Fifth-seeded Whitehall, seventh-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley and eighth-seeded Walnut Ridge went 9-1 and fourth-seeded Dover and sixth-seeded Wooster were 8-2.

The Indians would have made the playoffs in each of the other three Division II regions, earning the fourth seed in Region 5 and fifth seed in regions 6 and 8, and in three of the four Division I regions. Canal Winchester had enough points that it would have played host to a first-round game in Region 2, which includes roughly the northern half of central Ohio.

New Middletown Springfield, which is in Division VI, Region 21, was the only other 9-1 team not to make the playoffs.

Beeler completed 106 of 178 passes for 1,433 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions and ran for 93 yards and four scores on 47 carries, and Byrd rushed for 1,258 yards and 10 touchdowns on 217 carries.

Junior running back/defensive back Tyler Toledo had 70 carries for 507 yards and seven touchdowns.

Used largely in short-yardage situations, Davis racked up a team-high eight rushing touchdowns despite rushing for just 149 yards on 38 carries.

Senior Jake Howard led all receivers with 42 catches for 485 yards and two touchdowns.

Canal Winchester opened Aug. 24 with a 34-21 loss at Thomas Worthington before beginning the program's longest winning streak since the 2010 team won nine games in a row with a 27-13 home win over Olentangy Berlin on Aug. 31.

The Indians finished non-league play with wins over Teays Valley (14-7 on Sept. 7), Westerville North (38-15 on Sept. 14) and Grove City (28-13 on Sept. 21).

Canal Winchester bolted to a 27-7 third-quarter lead at New Albany in its OCC-Capital opener Sept. 28 before hanging on to win 30-28.

The Indians edged Groveport 14-7 on Oct. 5 before winning their final three games by an average of 37 points, beating Franklin Heights 45-0 on Oct. 11, Newark 59-13 on Oct. 19 and Big Walnut 27-7 on Oct. 26.

Canal Winchester won the league title ahead of New Albany (4-1), Groveport (3-2), Big Walnut (2-3), Newark (1-4) and Franklin Heights (0-5).

Other key players eligible to return include juniors Logan Beckwith (DB), Elijah Bulluck (WR/DB), Avery Musick (WR/K) and Michael Wilson (DL).

Beckwith had a team-high three interceptions, while Wilson recorded four sacks and recovered three fumbles.

Given the experience he expects to return, Stratton is setting his goals high for next season.

"If 9-1 wasn't enough to get into the playoffs, we have to do better and that's 10-0," Stratton said. "We must put in a 10-0 work ethic. Next year, we might not have the depth we had this year, but we'll still have 15 or 16 letterwinners back. We'll have a three-year starting quarterback and that's what you want, right? You want a guy with a lot of experience running your offense."

Stratton attributed the program's overall improvement to belief from everyone, from players to coaches to parents, something to which Toledo attested.

"We knew exactly what he wanted, what kind of a program he wanted to make," Toledo said. "He made sacrificial men out of us. We work hard and we play hard. We wanted to get this program to the point where we were winning championships and making the playoffs. The playoffs (were) out of our control, but to win a league where anybody can beat anybody, that's pretty special."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave