The Hilliard Davidson football team enters each season with three major goals.
The Wildcats achieved two of them by earning a share of the OCC-Central Division title and qualifying for the Division I, Region 3 playoffs, but they fell short of the third.
Fifth-seeded Davidson lost at fourth-seeded Groveport 18-17 in the first round of the playoffs Nov. 8 to finish 7-4 overall.
"We're still very proud to say that we accomplished the top two football goals in our program: win the league and make the playoffs," said coach Brian White, whose team was the regional runner-up last season. "Our third goal is to win games in the playoffs, and we obviously came up a little short on that one. Back-to-back league champs, regional final last year and another (playoff) berth this year.
"I believe a lot of programs would like to have that as their ceiling. It's amazing when your expectations are so high in a program that some consider what we did this year to be a failure. Many times those that are sitting at home or collecting their own equipment are your biggest critics."
Davidson led Groveport 17-6 before the Cruisers scored the final 12 points to pull out the win.
After Groveport's Jalil Underdown scored on a 95-yard run, the Cruisers recovered the ensuing onside kick and capped their comeback with a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Colin Rice to R'rion Cobb with 19.9 seconds left.
"They did what they had to do and take no credit away from them, but we certainly didn't execute in the last three or four minutes of the game like we needed to to win a playoff game," White said.
Davidson went 4-1 in the OCC-Central to tie Dublin Coffman and Upper Arlington for first place. The Wildcats lost to UA 10-7 on Oct. 11 but defeated Coffman 15-14 on Oct. 18, while the Shamrocks beat the Golden Bears 28-14 on Nov. 1.
"We could have done more as a senior class," senior defensive back and running back Nick Dymek said. "As coach White says, you always want to reach your potential, and I don't know if we reached our potential. Looking at it a year from now, this is a great group of guys to graduate with and play my last season with. I don't regret anything. I just wish we could spend one more week together."
The Wildcats are losing 27 seniors, including seven first-team all-league selections in Cameron Curry (OL/DL), Sean Carrier (K/P), Alex Painter (WR/DB), Nick Sands (OL/DL), Evan Tekancic (QB/DB), Kristopher Thornton (RB/LB) and Zach Woo (WR/DB).
Sophomore Jonathan Weir (RB/DB) rushed for a team-high 686 yards and 12 touchdowns on 145 carries and was second-team all-league. Also making the second team were seniors Dylan Kokoska (TE/LB) and Alex VanVoorhis (WR/DB) and junior Kevin Roberts (TE/DL).
Senior Bobby Smith (RB/DL) was special mention all-league and senior Dylan Bunyak (RB/LB) was honorable mention all-league.
Smith suffered a season-ending ACL injury to his left knee in Week 2.
"We felt terrible just for him as a person, all the love and dedication that he had put into the game of football," White said. "I don't know that if you would have told me Week 2 just how devastating of a loss it was going to be from not only his physical contributions to the team, but also the leadership and character that he brought to the team."
Other key players expected to return include juniors Aiden DeCarlo (WR/DB), R.J. Gonzales (RB/DB), Cody Hummell (RB/LB), Kaden Miller (OL/DL), Kyle Pepera (RB/DB) and Owen Savage (OL/DL) and sophomores Nick Monroe (OL/DL), Leo Nixon (RB/LB) and Blake Petit (QB/DB).
White shared league Coach of the Year honors with Coffman's Mark Crabtree and UA's Jeremey Scally, a former assistant coach at Davidson.