The biggest highlight of year three under coach Brian Cross was the Ready High School football team's return to the playoffs after last making it in 2013.

The biggest highlight of year three under coach Brian Cross was the Ready High School football team's return to the playoffs after last making it in 2013.

The Silver Knights might even be playing for a regional championship if their health had been just a bit better.

On Nov. 11 in a Division VI, Region 23 semifinal against fifth-seeded Newark Catholic at Thornville Sheridan, junior running back Devin Dukes gutted his way to 94 yards rushing on 19 carries despite battling an ankle injury.

The district's Offensive Player of the Year, Dukes finished the season with 2,194 yards and 32 touchdowns but was held out of the end zone by the Green Wave.

Ready, which was the eighth seed in the region, lost 20-14 in overtime to finish 8-4.

"With our running back having a banged-up ankle, he was not at full strength," Cross said. "Devin did the best he could. Statistically, we pretty much dominated the game. Both teams played their hearts out."

The Green Wave had a goal-line stand late in regulation. In overtime, Newark Catholic blocked a Ready field-goal attempt and then won the game when Kyle Gibson caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Hunter Chapman.

The Knights lost to Hartley 56-17 on Oct. 7 in the CCL-Gold Division championship game but bounced back to win their final three of the regular season, including 42-0 on Oct. 28 at Fayetteville to clinch a playoff berth and end the Rockets' hopes of making the Division VII postseason.

All three of the teams Ready lost to in the regular season made the postseason.

Ready, which didn't beat a team that qualified for the playoffs during the regular season, upset top-seeded Hannibal River 28-21 on Nov. 4 in a first-round playoff game before falling to Newark Catholic.

Junior Troy Williams, who sat out the first five games because of the OHSAA's transfer rule but became a key wide receiver in his first six games with the program, contributed 148 yards and one touchdown on 21 rushes in the playoff loss.

Both Williams and Dukes are among the reasons the Knights are looking forward to next season.

Ready loses first-team all-district honorees Patrick Jansen (DL/OL) and Brandon Burks (LB/RB) and second-team all-district choice Daris Martinez (DL/TE) from its defense but expects to return experienced players throughout the field.

Burks rushed for more than 400 yards and had 79 tackles during the regular season, while Jansen had 27 tackles and 13 tackles for loss and Martinez had 49 tackles and eight tackles for loss.

"Not many people thought Ready was even going to make it to the playoffs," sophomore quarterback Austin Aiello said. "I'm excited for next year. All my wide receivers are coming back and we only lose two linemen. (Williams is) a great wide receiver who's really fast. Most guys can't cover him. He's a fun guy to throw the ball to."

Also eligible to return after making first-team all-district is junior two-way lineman Anthony Baum, while freshman kicker A.J. Craddock was second-team all-district.

Others eligible to return include juniors Terron Crowder (WR/DB), Lance Gallion (DL/OL), Charles Omameh (DL), Christian Schell (LB) and Ryan Wood (LB/TE) and sophomores Cade Canter (DL/TE) and Jalin Lake (WR/DB).

"When we looked at the Newark Catholic roster, we counted about 17 seniors and 17 juniors, but we only had about (seven) seniors and about 12 juniors," Cross said. "The good thing is that we were a very young team this year. We'll have eight-and-a-half starters back on offense and seven starters back on defense, plus our kicker. We felt like we were good enough to be a playoff team this year."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek