The Canal Winchester football team got back to the playoffs after an agonizing one-year absence, but the Indians couldn't pick up their first postseason win in seven years.
The sixth-seeded Indians rallied from a 24-6 deficit late in the third quarter of a Division II, Region 8 first-round game at third-seeded Harrison on Nov. 8 but lost to the Wildcats 24-18.
Sophomore running back Stephan Byrd rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, senior quarterback Jack Beeler completed 10 of 18 passes for 110 yards and two scores with an interception and senior slotback Tyler Toledo caught four passes for 54 yards and a touchdown to lead Canal Winchester, which finished 9-2.
Beeler threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Avery Musick with 3 minutes, 50 seconds left in the first half and the Indians trailing 10-0.
Byrd ran for a 50-yard score with 3:34 left in the third quarter to make it 24-12, and Beeler threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Toledo with 2:58 left. The extra point was blocked for the second time in the contest and Canal Winchester, which also lost two fumbles, did not get the ball back the rest of the game.
"We never really got into a rhythm on offense. Every time we'd put something together, we'd commit a penalty that would kill our drive or have a mental lapse," coach Josh Stratton said. "Defensively, we played catch-up for a lot of the first half, but in the second half, we stopped them after their first drive and they didn't score again."
Canal Winchester also went 9-1 during the regular season last year but finished ninth in Region 7, one spot shy of a playoff berth.
This year, the Indians were sixth in Region 7 after winning their first six games for their best start since starting 9-0 in 2008.
Canal Winchester opened Aug. 30 with a 35-17 home over Thomas Worthington, followed by wins at Olentangy Berlin (24-21 on Sept. 6), at home against Teays Valley (66-7 on Sept. 13) and at Westerville North (24-7 on Sept. 20) before home victories against Grove City (38-7 on Sept. 27) and New Albany (41-27 on Oct. 4) in its OCC-Capital Division opener.
After a 28-0 loss at Groveport on Oct. 11, the Indians rebounded with a 48-6 victory over host Franklin Heights on Oct. 18 and a 49-0 win over visiting Newark on Oct 25.
A 28-13 win at Big Walnut on Nov. 1, coupled with New Albany's 35-7 win over Groveport that same night, gave the Indians, Cruisers and Eagles a split of the league championship, as all three teams went 4-1.
Byrd finished with 1,499 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns on 220 carries and caught nine passes for 205 yards and two scores to share league Offensive Player of the Year honors with New Albany running back Reed Hall.
For his career, Byrd has 437 carries for 2,757 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Beeler completed 106 of 185 passes for 1,473 yards with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Toledo rushed for 440 yards and five touchdowns on 42 carries, caught 29 passes for 383 yards and five scores, had 46 tackles and an interception on defense and averaged 38.0 yards per punt.
Senior Avery Musick had 22 catches for 334 yards and seven touchdowns, and classmate Elijah Bulluck caught 15 passes for 231 yards and one score.
Beeler, Musick, Toledo, senior offensive lineman Kevin Prior and junior linebacker Blaine Riley (133 tackles) all were named first-team all-league.
Senior Hunter Allen (TE/DE), a Youngstown State commit who had 51.5 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss, was second-team all-league along with seniors Logan Beckwith (DB/WR), Trevor Carver (WR/DB) and Michael Wilson (OL/DL).
Senior Jordan Crump (WR/DB) was special mention all-league and senior Dom Davis (DB) was honorable mention all-league. Davis had 59 tackles and Beckwith had 54 tackles and an interception.
Other players eligible to return include juniors Malcolm Guy (OL/DL), Jayden Lewis (OL/DL) and Landon Talbott (OL/DL) and sophomores Reese Musick (QB) and Connor Well (OL/DL).
"We have a good nucleus to build around," Stratton said. "We'll hit the weight room Dec. 9 ready to go. We have a huge and promising freshman class coming up, but we have some big holes to fill."
As part of OCC realignment, the Indians will be in an eight-team division next year with Big Walnut, Delaware, Dublin Scioto, Franklin Heights, Westerville North, Westerville South and Worthington Kilbourne.
Of that group, the Indians and South were the only two teams to make the playoffs this year or finish with a winning record.
Canal Winchester opens next season at Groveport, which will be a non-league game for the first time since 2015.