After falling in the first round of the playoffs for the second consecutive season, the Westerville Central football team hopes to take the next step next fall.

Seeded eighth in Division I, Region 3, the Warhawks gave top-seeded and host Olentangy Liberty a second battle this season before falling 14-7 on Nov. 8. Central finished 7-4 overall and went 2-3 in the OCC-Buckeye Division.

"We were 4-6 for a couple of seasons and then I took over and we went 5-5 and made it to the playoffs (last season) and this year we were 7-3 (during the regular season)," Morrison said. "We just have to continue to progress. These (13 seniors) have done a great job laying the foundation for that.

"Our program is definitely trending upward. We've taken the steps necessary and that was our theme for the year: 'step by step.' It's now just taking that next one."

Last season, Central lost to Dublin Coffman 27-10 in the first round of the Division I, Region 2 playoffs.

The Warhawks led Liberty 7-3 in the second half of their league game Oct. 4 before the Patriots rallied for a 17-7 win.

Trailing 14-7 in the rematch, the Warhawks drove to the Liberty 2-yard line in the final minute before losing the ball on downs.

"It's the rematch we wanted; it was the game we wanted," Morrison said. "It was kind of the same results. We couldn't quite get it done at the end and hats off to Liberty."

Junior Zeke Healy (RB/LB) led the defense with 81 tackles and shared league Player of the Year honors with Olentangy Orange's Zach Hill.

"It's a great feeling, but I wouldn't have (earned the award) without my team," Healy said. "It's a tremendous honor."

Senior Myles Williamson (WR/RB/DB) rushed for 437 yards and two touchdowns on 81 carries and added 31 receptions for 368 yards and four scores. He was first-team all-league.

Junior Judah Holtzclaw (QB/DL) also was first-team all-league. He completed 153 of 264 passes for 2,110 yards with 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Junior Luke Swaney (WR/DB) had 45 receptions for 628 yards and nine touchdowns and was first-team all-league.

Senior Rickey Hyatt (RB/DB), who has committed to Kentucky, rushed for a team-high 736 yards and nine touchdowns on 117 carries. He was second-team all-league.

Senior Darius Madison (RB/DL) had 45 tackles and was second-team all-league, as were senior J.J. Johnson (OL/DL) and junior Braden Weimer (OL/DL).

Junior Vince Francescone (QB/LB; 43 tackles) was special mention all-league and junior Logan Moore (WR/LB; 58 tackles) was honorable mention all-league.

The Warhawks split two games with their Westerville rivals, defeating North 21-0 on Oct. 11 and losing to South 23-20 in overtime Oct. 25.

Morrison credited the senior class for its contributions to the program.

"They've all contributed a ton," he said. "They've all embraced their roles and did their jobs."

Other key players expected to return include juniors Jimmy Glaser (RB/LB), Will Jados (OL/DL), Brandon Kennedy (OL/DL) and Mason Toomey (OL/DL) and sophomore Jason Robertson (QB/LB).

After starting 5-0 and outscoring opponents 273-25, Central lost four of its final six games.

"I was sad with how the season ended, but I'm really proud of my team," Healy said. "We fought through some things. Overall, I was pretty happy with the way we handled ourselves."

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank