Westland football coach Rick Rios hopes the playing experience his underclassmen received this fall will help lead to a turnaround in future seasons.
The Cougars finished 1-9 overall and 0-5 in the OCC-Central Division. They won their opener 48-28 over Licking Heights on Aug. 30 and suffered two close losses, 37-34 to Marion-Franklin on Sept. 6 and 17-13 to Central Crossing on Oct. 17 in league play.
"We're really encouraged by our young kids again," Rios said. "We know that we're building in the right direction. I thought there was constant improvement from the sophomore group. There got to be a point where we had to play so many of them by the end of the year. We're going to have something like 21 letterwinners back next year, so that's a big number."
The Cougars, who fell to Hilliard Davidson 31-13 on Nov. 1 in their season finale, have lost 25 consecutive league games. Their last league win was a 35-7 victory over Thomas Worthington on Sept. 24, 2015.
This also was the program's 12th consecutive losing season. Westland last qualified for the playoffs in 2006.
The Cougars could never find stability at quarterback as seniors Kyle Bowles (QB/WR/DB) and Buddy Workman (QB/DB) and junior Jason Cooper each saw time at the position.
Cooper and Workman competed for the starting spot in the preseason, with Workman earning the starting nod. Cooper took over after Workman left the team near the midway point of the season, but later sustained a knee injury and was replaced by Bowles.
Bowles, who began the season at wide receiver, played quarterback for the first time since his freshman season. However, he was lost for the season after suffering a concussion against Central Crossing.
"I am going to miss being with this group of guys that I've been with since my freshman year and all the guys I've played with who are older and younger than me," Bowles said. "It was tough to just sit there and watch them play and not be playing with them."
Cooper returned for the final two-plus games after Bowles sustained the concussion.
"Like I said at the beginning of the year, if we could avoid some injuries at key spots, we had the makings of a team that we thought could win six games," Rios said. "If you get in that area where you can win five, six, seven games, you have a chance to maybe play in a (playoff) game, which for us is ahead of schedule but what's expected here."
Cooper completed 31 of 68 passes for 470 yards with one touchdown and six interceptions, and Bowles rushed for 239 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries and had eight receptions for 106 yards and a score.
Senior Peterson Iresne (RB/LB) led the Cougars in rushing with 984 yards and 11 touchdowns on 187 carries. Senior Johnny Douglas (RB/LB) added 269 yards and a touchdown on 48 carries.
Senior Robert Clark (WR/LB) had 25 receptions for 355 yards and sophomore Jack Little (WR/DB) had 10 catches for 150 yards and a touchdown.
Senior Bakar Dabo (OL/DL) was first-team all-league, Iresne and sophomore Seth Westmoreland (DB) were second-team all-league, sophomore Jakob Hurley (LB) was special mention all-league and junior Colton Bogle (OL) was honorable mention all-league
"I'm definitely pleased with the senior group," Rios said. "I wish things would have worked out a little bit better for them, guys like Bakar Dabo, Kyle Bowles, Petey Iresne, Johnny Douglas and Robert Clark. I thought they did a lot of good things for us and for this program."
Other key players expected to return include junior Hayden Hughes (OL), sophomore Tim Smith (RB/DB) and freshman Zane Gibbs (WR).
"I hope eventually they show what Westland really is or what they can be against other teams," Bowles said.