In at least two key aspects, the Watterson High School football team's rematch against DeSales last Friday in the Division III, Region 10 championship game at Dublin Coffman mirrored the first meeting this season.

In at least two key aspects, the Watterson High School football team's rematch against DeSales last Friday in the Division III, Region 10 championship game at Dublin Coffman mirrored the first meeting this season.

As was the case in their 17-10 loss to the Stallions on Oct. 9, the Eagles could not hold on to a halftime lead last Friday on the way to losing 24-10.

Also like the earlier contest, Watterson struggled to move the ball in the second half while the Stallions' offense thrived after halftime.

The Eagles, who have lost five in a row to DeSales, finished 9-4 overall. The Stallions improved to 10-3 and face Cincinnati Wyoming in a state semifinal Friday at Welcome Stadium in Dayton.

"It's tough when you get to this point," coach Dan Bjelac said. "It hurts more every week you get closer to your goal."

The Eagles, who led 10-0 at halftime in the earlier matchup, were ahead 7-3 after two quarters last Friday. After DeSales made it 10-7 on a 2-yard scoring run by Nick Gentile with 7 minutes, 28 seconds left in the third quarter, Watterson kicker Dorian Gabrek made a 22-yard field goal with 2:03 to go in the third to tie it at 10.

The three biggest plays of the fourth quarter went against the Eagles.

A personal foul on Matt Schweitzer gave the Stallions first-and-goal from the 7, and Adam Griffin ran in for a touchdown on the next play with 8:29 left for the decisive points.

With 3:45 to go, Brad McCurdy was stopped for a 6-yard gain after making a reception on fourth-and-7 to give the Stallions the ball back. DeSales went three-and-out, but on the ensuing drive, Eagles quarterback Greg Hock threw three consecutive incompletions, including a failed conversion on third-and-8.

"We weren't playing that great in the first half, but our defense really tightened up," DeSales coach Ryan Wiggins said. "We talk about how in this game, it always comes down to a handful of key plays that determine the outcome."

Watterson entered the season with few players with varsity experience. It will lose 21 seniors, but key players on the offense, defense and special teams are expected to return.

The biggest losses on offense will be Schweitzer (14 catches for 280 yards, three touchdowns) at tight end, as well as Hock (78-for-202 passing, 1,088 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions), running back Mark Theado (861 yards on 193 rushes, nine catches for 103 yards) and wide receiver Marc Elberson (15 catches for 208 yards, four touchdowns).

Schweitzer was first-team all-district, Theado made second-team and Hock special mention. Seniors Andrew Buening (first-team all-district) and Kurt May (second-team all-district) were the top linemen.

Junior Patrick Rhomberg started last Friday because of a leg injury to Hock and was 2-for-6 passing for 63 yards while rushing six times for 48 yards with one touchdown.

By season's end, juniors Matt Redfield (106 rushes for 629 yards, six touchdowns) and Michael Szaraz (63 rushes for 332 yards) were seeing the majority of the carries out of the backfield.

Junior Connor Geraghty (10 catches for 263 yards, one touchdown) will be the top returning receiver.

The defense was led by senior backs Dominic Clegg (67 tackles, nine interceptions) and Nick Liimatta (97 tackles, two interceptions) and Redfield at linebacker (147 tackles). All three were first-team all-district.

Other juniors expected to return on defense include linebackers Ray Cook (86 tackles) and Szaraz (72 tackles), lineman Hunter Maynard (53 tackles) and defensive back Brad McCurdy (55 tackles, five interceptions).

Although Gabrek was a senior, junior Tim Carter should be back at punter.

Watterson beat St. Charles 20-0 on Oct. 23 in a CCL-Silver Division contest to clinch a Region 10 playoff berth. The Eagles, the second seed in the region, beat Bellefontaine 26-0 on Nov. 6 in the first round and Napoleon 6-3 on Nov. 13 in a region semifinal before losing to No. 1-seed DeSales in the region final.

"This group showed great resiliency," Bjelac said. "It was just a bunch of guys that decided they were going to play together. We came up just a little bit short, and that's just the breaks sometimes."

At a glance

•Record: 9-4 overall, 1-1 (second) in CCL-Silver

•Seniors lost: Ryan Alu, Andrew Buening, Dominic Clegg, Billy Conkle, Marc Elberson, Keegan Fitzpatrick, Craig Freeman, Dorian Gabrek, Taylor Glancey, Ardag Hajinazarian, Greg Hock, Nick Liimatta, P.J. Malagisi, Zach Mauric, Kurt May, Dan McCurdy, Phil Rasor, Ben Rutkowski, Matt Schweitzer, Neil Seguin and Mark Theado

•Key returnees: Ray Cook, Connor Geraghty, T.J. Gilles, Hunter Maynard, Brad McCurdy, Matt Redfield, Patrick Rhomberg and Michael Szaraz