As was the case in most of its games this season, the Delaware Hayes football team was in position to win its season finale against visiting Hilliard Bradley on Nov. 1.
The Pacers took a 17-14 lead with 3 minutes, 36 seconds left on a 40-yard run by junior quarterback Blake Eiland, but the lead was short-lived.
The Jaguars answered with the game-winning drive, capped by a 9-yard touchdown pass from quarterback A.J. Mirgon to Evan Yee with 29 seconds remaining, to pull out a 21-17 victory.
Delaware finished 3-7 overall and 1-6 in the OCC-Cardinal Division to tie Worthington Kilbourne for seventh behind champion Dublin Jerome (6-1). In six of their losses, the Pacers led or were within one score of the lead entering the fourth quarter.
Further proof of Delaware's potential came Oct. 11 when the Pacers beat Jerome 28-7, handing the Celtics their only league loss.
Delaware scored the game's final four touchdowns against Jerome, which made the playoffs in Division I, Region 2.
"Our kids fought hard every week and battled every week," said coach Scott Wetzel, whose team is losing 25 seniors. "We went 6-4 last year and thought we could be there again. Every league game, we held a lead at some time or another.
"(The seniors were) a great group of kids. Obviously, our expectations were higher, but they played hard. We battled through some injuries and this schedule is just tough. There's nobody on our schedule you can coast against. We had one league win and that (was) against the team that (won) the league."
The OCC will be undergoing realignment next year. In addition to Delaware, the OCC-Cardinal will consist of Big Walnut, Canal Winchester and Franklin Heights from the OCC-Capital, Westerville North and Westerville South from the OCC-Buckeye and Worthington Kilbourne.
Canal Winchester and Westerville South made the Division II playoffs.
Delaware's non-league games will be against Buckeye Valley, Westland and Marion-Franklin. The Pacers beat the Barons 35-0 on Aug. 30 and defeated the Cougars 49-6 on Sept. 13.
Marion-Franklin, which made the Division IV playoffs, replaces a Division I playoff qualifier in Marysville. Delaware lost to the Monarchs 35-14 on Sept. 6, representing its most lopsided loss.
Next season, Wetzel will coach against Big Walnut for the first time since he coached the Golden Eagles for 11 seasons from 1998-2008. Big Walnut's coach, Joe Weaver, was on Wetzel's staff when the Golden Eagles won the 2007 Division III state title.
"Our first four games (next season) are road games and they'll all probably be on grass," Wetzel said. "I've never coached against Big Walnut since I've left there and Joe and I are good friends. My son (Ethan) is the strength coach over there."
Eiland is the only full-time skill position player expected to return next season.
A third-year starter, Eiland completed 77 of 158 passes for 799 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions and rushed for 863 yards and six touchdowns this season.
Senior running back Jahi Broussard-Nash had 730 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns on 117 carries, senior running back Luke Jackson rushed for 269 yards on 59 carries, senior wide receiver Colby Cooper had 23 catches for 194 yards and a touchdown and senior tight end Nabil Abdus-salaam had 18 catches for 269 yards and two scores.
Junior Logan Eubanks, who had 163 yards rushing and a touchdown on 34 carries, should be a candidate to take over as the Pacers' No. 1 running back next season.
Juniors Gavin Kenney and Matt McGeath were starters on the offensive line and junior Logan Gibson also gained experience at the position.
"There's a lot of potential for next year," Eiland said. "Our (junior varsity) team was good this year. There were some games that Logan Eubanks would have to step up. We have some guys coming back on our offensive line, defensive line, wide receivers, our linebackers and our defensive backs."
The biggest loss defensively will be senior linebacker Sebastian Meehan, who led the team in tackles.
Junior defensive back Orion Ward and junior linebacker Caleb Shaw should be among the top returnees on defense.
"The interesting thing next year looking ahead is that we jump to a different league, so we'll have six new teams to play," Wetzel said. "Our j.v. had a nice season, finishing 6-3, and the three games they lost were all close games, so we think we have some people coming up who can help us."