Upper Arlington football coach Jeremey Scally acknowledged that his team fell short of its top goal on the field, making the Division I, Region 3 playoffs.
But Scally's first season with the Golden Bears did include a share of their first OCC-Central Division championship since 2008 and the first win against either of their top rivals in seven years.
"The goal of the season was to make football important again at Upper Arlington," Scally said. "For whatever reason, it had lost its importance. This senior class was committed and they did everything it took to make football a priority again.
"Our buzzword around here this year was 'culture.' Our guys might have gotten tired of hearing about it, but that's what it was. The cultural improvements we made this year were awesome. Our guys wore ties on Tuesdays. They sat in the front row in class and their attitudes translated into great practices and efforts on Friday night. Your culture is everything."
UA finished 6-4 overall and 4-1 in the OCC-Central, tying Dublin Coffman and Hilliard Davidson for first place, two games ahead of fourth-place Marysville (2-3).
A 28-14 home loss to Coffman on Nov. 1 cost the Bears the outright league championship and their first playoff berth since 2015. UA finished 11th (18.1878 points) in Region 3, three spots behind the eighth and final playoff qualifier in Westerville Central (19.85).
The Bears went 2-3 in their non-league schedule, opening with a 23-9 loss at Reynoldsburg on Aug. 30 and routing Dayton Belmont 49-6 on Sept. 6 at home before losing back-to-back games at Cincinnati Winton Woods (30-7 on Sept. 13) and at home against Westerville South (28-21 on Sept. 20).
A 31-21 win at Lancaster seven days later began a five-game winning streak that carried through most of OCC-Central play.
UA defeated Westland (41-23 on Oct. 4), Davidson (10-7 on Oct. 11), Marysville (10-6 on Oct. 18) and Central Crossing (35-14 on Oct. 25) in league play before falling to Coffman.
Despite missing 2 1/2 games because of injury, senior Chris Schweisthal led the Bears' running backs with 785 yards rushing and six touchdowns on 133 carries. Sophomore Carson Gresock added 529 yards and four touchdowns on 92 carries, senior quarterback Jake Leve had 73 carries for 314 yards and five touchdowns and sophomore Chris Reynolds rushed for 315 yards and a touchdown on 40 carries.
Leve also completed 25 of 39 passes for 417 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
His top receiver was sophomore Sam Cannon, who had 14 catches for 257 yards and two touchdowns.
Junior linebacker Matthew Weaver led UA in tackles with 70, ahead of senior linebacker Zayne Ritchey and junior Marco Landolfi with 62 each. Junior defensive back Shea Keethler had 58 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions.
"One thing I loved hearing when guys made big plays is that they gave the other guys all the credit," Scally said. "There's no secret recipe (to making that happen), but it's important."
Leve, senior Sean McRae (OL) and Schweisthal and juniors Jack Flowers (OL/DL), Garrett Junk (P), Keethler and Landolfi all were named first-team all-league. Senior Liam Keethler (WR/DB), Ritchey, junior Dominic Chiavaroli (DE/TE) and Gresock were second-team all-league, senior David Adams (DL) was special mention all-league and junior Michael Ballenger (DL) was honorable mention all-league.
Others eligible to return include junior Nick Utgard (RB/LB) and Leve's backup, sophomore Simon Monnin.
Like this year, UA will open next season at Reynoldsburg.
As part of OCC realignment, the Bears will be in a six-team division with Coffman, Davidson, Hilliard Bradley, Olentangy Liberty and Olentangy Orange beginning next season. All but UA and Bradley made the playoffs this year.
"For this year's seniors to leave their imprint and do what they did was hugely important for us going forward," Scally said. "We watched the team grow and care about each other. It was one of the more enjoyable years of coaching that I've had. We look back at June when we were still installing everything -- plays, terminology, everything. What we did this year wasn't supposed to happen."