In both of the Harvest Preparatory School football team's losses this season, a slow start proved to be too much to overcome.
The third-seeded Warriors had aspirations of a long playoff run but gave up 33 first-half points and lost to sixth-seeded Hannibal River 39-34 in a Division VII, Region 27 first-round game Nov. 3 at home.
Harvest Prep, which finished 9-2 overall, trailed Division II playoff qualifier Mifflin 27-16 at halftime and 33-16 in the third quarter on its way to a 55-48 loss on Sept. 8.
'You can't spot a team 33 points in the first half,' coach Milan Smith said of the loss to River. 'We made our mistakes. Our guys caught a rhythm in the second half and we had some 3-and-outs, but at the end of the day, we just didn't have enough time. I want to tip my hat to the staff at River, and they caught us on a night where we didn't play our best game.'
Among the season highlights for the Warriors was a fourth consecutive league championship.
Harvest Prep, which has won 26 consecutive league games, went 7-0 in the MSL-Cardinal Division to finish ahead of Berne Union (5-2), Worthington Christian (5-2), Zanesville Rosecrans (5-2), Grove City Christian (3-4), Millersport (2-5), Fairfield Christian (1-6) and Fisher Catholic (0-7). Rosecrans also made the Region 27 playoffs but lost in the first round.
The Warriors, who reached a state semifinal last season, are losing two of central Ohio's top players in seniors Daniel Bangura (RB/DB) and Isaiah Mullens (DL/TE).
'It's easy to be negative right now, but I loved my senior group,' Smith said. 'They're a tremendous group of guys.'
Bangura rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns, all coming in the second half, against River. He finished the season with 3,400 yards and 45 touchdowns on the ground and added four touchdown receptions and 12 two-point conversions.
Bangura became the state's all-time leading rusher during a 90-7 win over Fairfield Christian on Oct. 27. He closed his career with more than 9,600 yards rushing, topping the previous record of 9,426 yards set by Akron Hoban's Tyrell Sutton, who finished his prep career in 2004.
Mullens, a University of Wisconsin commit, finished with 20 catches for 266 yards and five touchdowns on offense and five tackles for loss and 10 quarterback pressures on defense.
Senior Savon Mitchell (WR/DB) had 40 catches for 562 yards and seven touchdowns and 12 two-point conversions on offense and five interceptions on defense.
Nick Tyree-Martin (LB/RB), Jannai French (LB/RB), MaKyle Goins (OL/DL), Andrew Howes (OL), Martin Woods (OL) and Rassaun Harris (DB) also were among the key seniors.
Junior quarterback Moses Davis, who completed 60 of 91 passes for 960 yards with 14 touchdowns and three interceptions, is expected to be among the top returnees on offense next season.
Sophomore Javon Eggert (RB), junior Zion Bangura (H-back) and freshman Rahshaun Goines (RB) also are eligible to return at the skill positions.
Junior Richard Turnbo and sophomore Elijah Rogers were key offensive linemen.
Junior Daquan Owens-Johnson and sophomore Khelin Jackson are eligible to return at linebacker.
'I'm just going to celebrate the four years with these guys, because the year before I came here, they were 4-6,' Smith said. 'It's tough because I'm hurting for the kids.'