After failing to make the postseason last year for the first time since 2007, the Hilliard Davidson High School football team returned to a familiar setting this fall.
The Wildcats qualified for the playoffs and advanced to the Division I, Region 3 final as the No. 1 seed before losing to sixth-seeded Pickerington Central 20-13 on Nov. 16 at Gahanna to finish 11-2 overall.
Both of the Wildcats' losses came against defending state champion Central. The Tigers won the first meeting 17-14 in overtime Sept. 21 at Davidson.
"Goal No. 1 is to win our league, and if you can win our (league), that pretty much is going to assure you get in the playoffs," said coach Brian White, whose team went 5-0 in the OCC-Central Division. "We did both of those this year. Goal No. 2 is to make the playoffs and not just make it, but win some games in the playoffs and we were able to do that, and making a regional final for the first time since 2015 made it a pretty special year."
The Wildcats, who opened the playoffs with a 28-21 win over eighth-seeded Huber Heights Wayne on Nov. 2 and beat fourth-seeded Springfield 17-14 in a regional semifinal Nov. 9, will be hit hard by graduation as they have 28 seniors.
Key losses will include senior linebackers and tight ends Evan Annis and Ethan Royer, both of whom helped anchor the team's defense.
Royer had a team-high 132 tackles and was named district Defensive Player of the Year along with first-team all-league.
"It was a great season, a lot of fun," Royer said. "We really came together as a team. Last year motivated us all offseason and all season. If you want to be successful, you have to have the mindset that you don't want to lose. We weren't going to accept losing one game. Things don't always go your way and the cards fall how they may and we ended a little bit earlier than we wanted."
Annis was second on the team in tackles with 121 and was named first-team all-district and shared Defensive Player of the Year honors in the OCC-Central with Marysville linebacker Mike Powers and Upper Arlington defensive end Jackson Ness.
On offense, the Wildcats will be losing senior running back Jordan Hicks, who led the team in rushing with 832 yards and 22 touchdowns on 179 carries and was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Davidson played the regional final without Annis and Hicks, both of whom were out with concussions.
Senior running back Christian Sweet, who also was the team's top return specialist, rushed for 662 yards and five touchdowns on 142 carries and was first-team all-district and all-league, while senior running back Kalib O'Connor rushed for 719 yards and a touchdown on 167 carries and was honorable mention all-league.
Senior quarterback Carson Felicetty passed for 509 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 350 yards and two scores and was first-team all-league.
Junior Nick Sands (OL/DL) was first-team all-district and second-team all-league, junior Sean Carrier (K/P) was first-team all-league and special mention all-district, senior David May (WR/DB) and junior Nick Dymek (WR/DB) were first-team all-league, seniors Chase Miles (OL/DL), Myles Paazig (OL/DL) and Timmy Sanford (DB) and junior Dylan Kokoska (RB/DL) were second-team all-league and junior Bobby Smith (DL) was special mention all-league.
"We measure our success on whether we reach or achieve or exceed our potential, and I definitely think we reached our potential this year," White said. "I'm still assessing whether or not we exceeded our potential, but we definitely reached our potential."