Familiar foes and unfamiliar adversity ultimately ended the Upper Arlington High School football team's attempt to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
The Golden Bears went 5-5 overall and 3-2 in the OCC-Central Division and finished ninth in Division I, Region 2, one spot short of the postseason, despite losing their starting quarterback to injury halfway through the season and their head coach to administrative leave with two games to go.
"Our guys did great through a lot of adversity," assistant coach Michael Schaefer said. "We aren't happy with 5-5 by any means, but I don't believe our effort was reflected in that record. They did a good job amid everything we went through. We call our logo 'block UA' and I'm confident this group left it better than they found it."
Assistant coach Barry Fox directed the Bears in their final two games, a 24-7 win over Central Crossing on Oct. 19 and a 17-0 loss at Dublin Coffman on Oct. 26, after fifth-year coach Joel Cutler was placed on administrative leave while the handling of health and wellness issues of players was investigated.
The Bears never lost consecutive games but put together back-to-back wins just once, winning 14-0 at Marysville on Oct. 12 before beating Central Crossing.
UA opened with a 17-14 home loss to Reynoldsburg on Aug. 24 before a 49-42 overtime win at Findlay on Aug. 31. The Bears then lost to Cincinnati Winton Woods, last year's Division II state runner-up, 52-45 at home on Sept. 7 and defeated host Westerville South 37-29 on Sept. 14 before an agonizing 29-28 home loss to Lancaster on Sept. 21 in which the Golden Gales scored the winning touchdown and two-point conversion with six seconds left and senior quarterback Sammy Sass suffered a season-ending broken collarbone.
Sass, who has committed to play baseball at Wright State, completed 42 of 76 passes for 616 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions.
His successor, junior Jacob Leve, was 44-for-91 passing for 469 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
UA, which finished 1.6197 points behind eighth-place Toledo Start in Region 2, placed third in the OCC-Central behind Hilliard Davidson (5-0) and Coffman (4-1). In addition to losing to the Shamrocks, the Bears lost to the Wildcats 17-7 on Oct. 5 before winning two of their final three games.
UA has lost 12 consecutive games to Davidson and its last six contests against Coffman.
"There's never a good loss -- that's not our standard -- but give credit to the Reynoldsburgs and Lancasters of the world," Schaefer said. "Reynoldsburg and Winton Woods won nine games. Lancaster (shared first place) in one of the best leagues in the state (the OCC-Ohio). There was not a game all year when we felt like we were out of it."
UA's top two running backs, both juniors, almost evenly split production. Eli D'Herete rushed for 757 yards and eight touchdowns on 155 carries as well as catching 14 passes for 124 yards and two scores, and Chris Schweisthal, who missed the games against Davidson and Marysville with a concussion, finished with 149 carries for 725 yards and seven touchdowns.
Senior wide receiver Josh Rushin caught 29 passes for 415 yards and three touchdowns and classmate Steven Bair had 20 catches for 254 yards and two scores.
Senior linebacker Nick Fisanick led a stout defense with 88 tackles, 40 of which were solo. Senior linebacker Michael McBeath added 79 total tackles and senior linebacker Ben Krimm had 73 total tackles, 15 for loss, in addition to averaging 40.1 yards per punt.
Senior lineman Jackson Ness, a Boston College commit, had a team-high 52 tackles, while senior defensive back Nathan Junk led UA in interceptions with three.
Senior offensive lineman Jud Utgard has committed to Brown University.
"I'm not sure you truly know what you have until you get out there and play, but fortunately for us, we had a lot of experience back at defensive line and linebacker and other guys who emerged and had great seasons," Schaefer said. "They gave up two touchdowns in the second half of the season. They were impressive. They're a big reason we had a lot to play for at the end of the year."
Other key players eligible to return include juniors Liam Keethler (WR), Marco Landolfi (LB) and Sean McRae (OL).
UA's 2019 schedule will be almost identical to this year's, with sites reversed. The only change will be in Week 2, when the Bears will play their home opener against Dayton Belmont instead of continuing their series against Findlay.