Even as the scoreboard flashed a message Nov. 1 announcing that the New Albany football team had won a share of the OCC-Capital Division championship, in front of which players, coaches and parents beamed in photos, the Eagles knew their season had come to an end.
The manner in which that happened, however, made missing the playoffs a little easier to take.
Running back Mechi McCaulley's 219 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 22 carries paced the offense, which fed off a smothering defensive effort as New Albany routed visiting Groveport 35-7.
The Eagles finished 7-3 overall and 4-1 in the league, tied for first with the Cruisers and Canal Winchester, but fell short of a playoff berth in Division I, Region 3.
New Albany finished 10th in the region with 18.9 points, two spots behind Westerville Central (19.85) as the top eight teams made the playoffs. Groveport is the fourth seed.
Defensive linemen Jackson Buss, Jake Klausner and Timmy Marshall helped the Eagles limit Groveport to 132 yards rushing, less than half of the 320.1 yards the Cruisers had averaged through their first nine games, in which they were 8-1.
Groveport had 54 yards rushing until Jalil Underdown's 50-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter made it 14-7.
"Our defensive staff did an unbelievable job preparing our kids, but our kids went out and executed. They did an unbelievable job coming off the ball and changing the line of scrimmage. We played on their side a lot," coach Bubba Kidwell said. "Those guys kept fighting down low because that's a big offensive line."
McCaulley had a 38-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and answered Underdown's touchdown with a 36-yard score with 10 minutes, 36 seconds left in the game. McCaulley later scored from 17 yards and Reed Hall added a 5-yard touchdown run in the final two minutes.
Brock Tibbitts threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Brody Kidwell in the second quarter to make it 14-0.
"I don't think there's ever been anyone who's played harder in a New Albany football uniform than Mechi," coach Kidwell said. "He is (5-foot-8 and) 138 (pounds) but he plays like he's 238. He just keeps going."
New Albany gained 253 of its 330 yards on the ground.
"The defense stopped them and gave the offense the juice to keep going. The blocking was great. Reed and I were hitting the holes. All around, it was a great night," McCaulley said. "They had a five-man front and they brought everybody quick so once you got through that line, there was a lot of open field. If you hit it quick and you got through, you could just keep running."