The New Albany football team's successful tradition continued this season, even if the Eagles fell short of one major goal.
New Albany wrapped up a 7-3 season with a 35-7 rout of Groveport on Nov. 1, enabling the Eagles to earn a share of the OCC-Capital Division championship with the Cruisers and Canal Winchester as all three teams went 4-1.
It was not enough to propel them to the playoffs, however, as New Albany finished 10th in Division I, Region 3 with 18.9 points. The top eight teams made the postseason.
Eighth-place Westerville Central had 19.85 points, ahead of Hilliard Darby (18.996) and the Eagles, who were in Division I for the first time.
New Albany has not had a losing season since 2004 and went 5-5 only once in that span, in 2014.
"That's always one of our goals, to win the (OCC-Capital). Everything else was out of our hands, but what was in our hands was (winning) and we were able to accomplish that goal," coach Bubba Kidwell said. "I am so proud of these seniors. They struggled (with) winning in middle school and their freshman year (winning a total of three games in that time), but they stuck with our program and believed in what we were doing."
New Albany opened Aug. 30 with a 48-21 home loss to Westerville South, after which Kidwell was hospitalized because of a heart attack. He watched the Eagles' 28-24 home win over Dublin Scioto seven nights later from the press box but returned to the sideline for a 41-14 win at Licking Heights on Sept. 13.
The Eagles defeated host Gahanna 41-17 on Sept. 20 before dropping consecutive games to playoff qualifiers in visiting Olentangy (38-35 on Sept. 27) and host Canal Winchester (41-27 on Oct. 4) in the OCC-Capital opener for both teams.
New Albany would not lose again after that, finishing the regular season with wins over visiting Newark (48-0 on Oct. 11), host Big Walnut (26-20 on Oct. 18), host Franklin Heights (34-7 on Oct. 25) and Groveport.
"I told the kids (after the losses to Canal Winchester and Olentangy) the season could go one of two ways. They fought back," Kidwell said. "The game that was huge for us was the Big Walnut game. We fought back in the second half. We had a feeling if we won that game, we could set ourselves up for the league title."
The Eagles again thrived with a run-heavy offense, rushing for 3,315 yards and passing for 817 while outscoring their opponents 34-21 on average.
Senior Reed Hall ran for 1,545 yards and 21 touchdowns on 220 carries, setting a program record with 340 yards against Licking Heights. He shared league Offensive Player of the Year honors with Canal Winchester running back Stephan Byrd.
Junior Mechi McCaulley added 161 carries for 1,355 yards and nine touchdowns, three of which came against Groveport as part of a 219-yard night.
Junior quarterback Brock Tibbitts completed 49 of 99 passes for 817 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions and rushed for 222 yards and six scores on 31 carries.
His top receivers were junior Owen Wilcox (18 catches, 363 yards, 2 TDs) and seniors Charlie Pine (10 catches, 140 yards, 2 TDs) and Brody Kidwell (6 catches, 102 yards, 3 TDs).
Kidwell, who also plays defensive back, recorded a team-leading 92 tackles, 49 of which were solo, with two interceptions. Senior linebackers Luke Dovell and Patrick Gurd tied for the team lead in sacks with three.
Senior defensive backs Kingston Mabatah and Dom Zappitelli and sophomore defensive back Jesse Gordon each had two interceptions.
Other players eligible to return include juniors Braedon Elwer (OL/DL), Ian Hoff (TE/LB/K), Kevin Spelman (OL/DL) and Jaron Webster (OL/DL) and sophomore Brock Kidwell (QB/DB).
Elwer, Gurd, Brody Kidwell, McCaulley and senior Kevin Spelman (OL) were named first-team all-league. Dovell, Tibbitts and Zappitelli were second-team all-league, senior Garrett St. John (OL/DL) was special mention all-league and Hoff was honorable mention all-league.
As part of OCC realignment starting next year, New Albany will be in a six-team division with Gahanna, Grove City, Pickerington North, Westerville Central and Westland.
The Eagles will open the 2020 season with consecutive road games against Watkins Memorial and Westerville North before their home opener against Licking Heights.
"I'm already excited for next year," McCaulley said. "(After losing to Canal Winchester), we wanted to go 7-3 as a team. That's what we wanted and we got it. We're all just happy and grateful."