Even with its top two competitors not feeling their best, the Gahanna Lincoln boys cross country team set a new standard of success during the Division I state meet Nov. 2 at National Trail Raceway.

The Lions followed a program-best seventh-place finish at last year's state meet by placing fourth (227 points) of 20 teams, behind champion Cincinnati St. Xavier (92).

After winning district and regional titles, Gahanna again scored the most points of any central Ohio program.

"We got fourth? That's pretty good," senior Riley Jackson said as he was leaving the warm-down area at the state meet.

Jackson was a big reason for the Lions' success all season.

At state, he finished 21st of 186 runners in 15 minutes, 52.2 seconds, an improvement of 36 places and more than a minute from last season when Gahanna qualified for the first time since 2004.

"Physically beforehand, I wasn't feeling the best, but I really tried to race with heart and I knew my team would do well if we put it all together on the same day," Jackson said. "It was fine through 2 1/2 miles. The last bit I started to blow up a little bit. Guys passed me. I was in about 16th going into the last lap and I got 21st, so I was really falling apart at the end, but I knew I had to race hard. It's the hardest race I've done this season in terms of physical pain."

Seniors Ben Towler (62nd, 16:23.7) and Ryan Mehalic (75th, 16:30.4) were the next two finishers for Gahanna, which placed three points ahead of fifth-place finisher Pickerington North.

"It was OK," Towler said. "My foot started to hurt, but we all had a great season. I'm really satisfied with the season. I'm really going to miss running with this group of guys. They're truly my brothers."

Freshman Alex Eggleston was the Lions' No. 4 runner, finishing 87th (16:38.3), followed by juniors Donovan Hight (134th, 16:58.7), Connor Hughes-Hemsoth (144th, 17:03.4) and Isaac Mair (177th, 17:37.3).

Senior Caleb Shovlin, who competed for the Lions on Oct. 19 at the district 2 meet, was a key contributor, as were junior Isaiah Rowe and sophomores Jordon Anderson and Vincent Siegel.

"(Mehalic has been) kind of finding himself as a competitor, which came at the right time," coach Ryan Beck said. "Eggleston was a freshman who came out a little later. He was unsure whether he wanted to do cross country, but he's really taken to it and has been an awesome part of our team. Donovan Hight has just gotten better with more experience."

OCC title highlights year for girls team

Of the seven runners who competed for the girls cross country team at the Division I regional meet Oct. 26 at Pickerington North, four are eligible to return.

Included in that group is sophomore Alyssa Shope, who placed 31st (19:52.7) at regional as the top 20 advanced to state. She placed third (19:55.8) at the OCC-Ohio Division meet Oct. 12 at Lancaster as Gahanna scored 40 points to win the title.

Riley Dickson and Natalie Clay, who finished 36th (20:09.3) and 44th (20:15.7), respectively, at regional, and Tara Shope were seniors in the lineup.

"Most of them are coming back, but we lose three," coach Ernie Ziegler said.

Juniors Elise Wunderlin and Megan Massmann and sophomore Olivia Perry also ran in the postseason for the Lions, who finished sixth (206) at regional behind champion Hilliard Davidson (36) to fall one place shy of qualifying for state.

Others eligible to return include juniors Rachel Bolumen and Olivia Keener and sophomore Hannah Reich.

"Our issue (during the regular season) was just health," Ziegler said. "We've had just about everybody have some kind of ailment, ache or pain that set them back by a week or so. ... When we are running, we've been solid."

Football team falls to Panthers

The football team had the ball twice inside Pickerington North territory during the fourth quarter of its 21-9 loss in its regular-season finale Nov. 1.

The visiting Lions began the first of those two possessions at their own 7 and moved to the Panthers' 31, but quarterback Will Thomas threw incomplete on fourth-and-6 and North scored on the ensuing possession to seal the victory.

"We fought," coach Bruce Ward said. "Pick North's a good team. They finally got it going. Like I told our team, there were a couple plays we just needed to finish. If we finish a little better, (it would have been) be a little different."

Gahanna, which had a three-game winning streak snapped, finished 3-7 overall and 3-2 in the OCC-Ohio. North improved to 6-4 overall to qualify for the Division I, Region 3 playoffs and finished runner-up in the league at 4-1.

Senior running back Travis Whittaker rushed 35 times for 138 yards and a touchdown, giving him 1,180 yards and nine touchdowns on 211 carries for the season.

Brendan Raymond had five catches for 61 yards and Cam Morris had three receptions for 35 yards.

Defensively, Mason Weber had 5.5 tackles and one tackle for loss, Qwyn Williams had one tackle for loss and one sack and Mykohl Martin had 6.5 tackles.

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek