After making the Division I, Region 3 playoffs as the No. 7 seed, the Reynoldsburg football team endured its second loss in three weeks to second-seeded Pickerington Central on Nov. 8 to close its season.
From a competitive standpoint, though, the 20-14 setback against the host Tigers was much different from the previous meeting.
By the third quarter of its 40-14 loss to Central on Oct. 25, Reynoldsburg trailed by 27 points.
The second defeat was particularly difficult to swallow for a team that had 30 seniors, but the Raiders weren't disappointed with their effort.
"This was the real Reynoldsburg team, not the one that lost 40-14," said coach Buddy White, whose team finished 7-4 overall. "This was us. Whenever they play with heart like that, in the end, we still had a chance to win."
Reynoldsburg, which made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time and has been to the postseason three of the last five years, was held to (minus)-12 yards rushing and committed four turnovers in the rematch.
However, a 23-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Michael Whatley to senior wide receiver James Dean cut it to 20-14 with 4 minutes, 16 seconds remaining.
The Raiders then got the ball back at their own 15 with 2:20 to go and moved near midfield before their final opportunity stalled.
Reynoldsburg took a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter when senior defensive back Deshawn Mattox blocked a punt in the end zone and junior linebacker Myles Carter fell on it for a touchdown.
"We tried our hardest and it just didn't happen," Carter said. "I just know we worked hard to come this far. (The seniors meant) a lot."
The Raiders won their first five games to set up the playoff run, including beating eventual playoff-qualifiers Marion-Franklin (40-10 on Sept. 13) and Westerville South (35-14 on Sept. 27).
After going 2-3 to finish fourth in the OCC-Ohio Division, Reynoldsburg will remain in the same division as Central and Lancaster next season following OCC realignment, with Central Crossing, Groveport and Newark rounding out the league.
Groveport shared the OCC-Capital title with New Albany and Canal Winchester while Central Crossing lost to the Raiders 17-15 on Sept. 20 and finished 3-7. Lancaster finished 2-7 overall and 1-4 in the OCC-Ohio, and Newark went 1-9.
Whatley, Dean and Mattox were among a group of senior leaders.
Dean, who had eight catches for 84 yards in the second loss to Central, finished with 50 receptions for 693 yards and six touchdowns. He also was one of the team's punters and averaged 11.7 yards on 21 punt returns.
Joining Dean as a first-team all-league honoree were senior wide receiver Shon Strickland, senior two-way lineman Jalen Bowens and senior kicker Cocy Goff.
Strickland had 45 receptions for 762 yards and nine touchdowns. Goff made seven of nine field goals and 27 of 32 extra points and added 48 tackles while playing in the secondary.
Receiving second-team all-league were seniors Courtland Bullard (DB/RB), Robert McClain (DL/OL) and Andree' Mock (WR), while junior Dalton Hall (OL/DL) was special mention and senior Johron Johnson (LB) was honorable mention.
Bullard finished with 52 tackles and rushed for 161 yards and three touchdowns, McClain had 37 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss, Mock had 16 receptions for 258 yards and five touchdowns and Johnson had 66 tackles.
Whatley was 117-for-206 passing for 1,652 yards with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Senior MarcAnthony Gray led the rushing attack with 108 carries for 581 yards and three touchdowns.
Other key seniors on defense included Mikah Coleman (46 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks) on the line, Jehoiada Bantoe (30 tackles) and Marshawn Massey (31 tackles, 3 tackles for loss) at linebacker and Breyon Eddings (34 tackles, 2 interceptions), Mattox (19 tackles) and Isaiah Thomas (18 tackles) in the secondary.
Joining Hall as expected returnees on offense are sophomore Dijon Jennings at quarterback and junior Omari Jones at running back.
Jennings was 44-for-65 passing for 594 yards with seven touchdowns, and Jones rushed 22 times for 117 yards and two touchdowns.
Juniors Daniel Broomfield, Nrique Love and Kehinde McComb are others who could be candidates at running back next season.
Carter (72 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss) and sophomore lineman Keyshaun Slaughter (51 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss) should be the top returnees on defense.
Junior linebacker Terrell Burton made 25 tackles and one tackle for loss. Junior lineman Mekhai Woodfork contributed 3.5 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in the playoff game.
"We had a good group (of seniors)," White said. "A lot of these guys played last year and they knew what playoff football was about. I love this team, I love these guys and I love their heart.
"We've got some good kids coming back next year and now we have to see how they're going to lead. Are they going to lead? We're starting to get to that point now where we're not rebuilding anymore, we're reloading. We've got some good young kids that are coming up that are going to get an opportunity to show what they have."