The Thomas Worthington football team won two of its final three games, but it was hard for coach Matt Zingery to celebrate his squad's strong finish.
The Cardinals finished 4-6 overall and 3-4 in the OCC-Cardinal Division. They defeated Delaware 7-0 on Oct. 18 and Dublin Scioto 30-27 in two overtimes Oct. 25 before closing out the season with a 36-13 loss to Olentangy Berlin on Nov. 1.
Thomas' other wins came against Westerville North (24-14 on Sept. 6) and Kilbourne (20-13 on Sept. 20).
The Cardinals fell one win shy of just their second non-losing season this century. They finished 5-5 in 2009 and their last winning season came in 1999 when they went 7-3.
"We were looking to move the program -- in terms of wins and losses -- a little further," Zingery said. "We had a lot of self-inflicted wounds. We're going to have to be a more disciplined football team and that starts with me and my coaching staff and moving all the way down through the team.
"Winning two of three down the stretch was good for our program, but the overall record of 4-6 is just not what we want to be. It just can't be OK anymore to be under .500. We've got to be better consistently year in and year out."
Junior linebacker Reese Dykstra led Thomas with 77 tackles. The two-year starter is expected to lead a long list of returnees on the Cardinals' defense.
Junior slotback and cornerback Sheron Phipps was a big weapon on offense and defense this season. He rushed for 535 yards and seven touchdowns, had 175 yards and two touchdowns as a receiver and had six interceptions and four pass breakups on defense.
Dykstra and Phipps both were named first-team all-league.
Other expected returnees on defense include junior linebacker Zach Homer and juniors Jayvaun Lane and Aramus Welch and sophomore Cam Beatty in the secondary. Beatty was second-team all-league.
"We're a little thin on the big guys," Zingery said, referring to defensive linemen. "But virtually our entire secondary and two of three linebackers come back next season."
Thomas is losing senior quarterback James Gaiters, who was 44-for-87 passing for 504 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions while battling injuries throughout the season.
Among the expected returnees on offense are Phipps, sophomores Nate Hoover (RB) and Caleb Ortega (QB) and juniors Sam Carver, Amilcar Diaz and Ethan Gerding on the line.
"We really only lose one (skill-position player on offense): our quarterback," Zingery said. "We have a lot of skill coming back, but still a lot to improve on."
Other seniors included Aleksander Aleksic (OL), Nathan Borghese (WR), Luke Coe (DE/P), Owen Graham (K), Bassil Hassan (LB), Harry Landwehr (OL), Greg Laws (OL), James Mitchell (RB), Austin Parsons (DL) and Alex Ritchie (DL).
Hassan was second on the team with 61 tackles and Coe had a team-high four sacks. Hassan and Ritchie were second-team all-league, Borghese was special mention all-league and Gaiters was honorable mention all-league.
"Those seniors really set a path for us in the future," Dykstra said. "With most of our defense coming back and most of our offense coming back, it's really looking like a bright year (next season)."