The Westerville South football team heads into the offseason planning to build on its first postseason appearance since 2012.
On Nov. 8 in the first round of the Division II, Region 7 playoffs, the fifth-seeded Wildcats fell behind early at fourth-seeded Toledo St. John's before a rally fell short in a 42-34 loss. South, which committed six turnovers, finished 6-5 overall and 2-3 in the OCC-Buckeye Division.
"The senior class has been tremendous and they've really re-established where the bar is for Westerville South football," coach Matthew Christ said. "The challenge now is you're going to have these younger guys who are going to have to step up and fill their shoes. We have a good returning group. They'll be excited about that challenge, but we have a lot of work to do."
Running back Michael Mansaray, who led the 11-player senior class, reinjured his left ankle early in the playoff game and missed the second half. He finished with 44 yards on seven carries.
Junior Brayden White (QB/LB/P) completed 13 of 28 passes for 216 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a hand injury.
Sophomore Kaden Saunders (WR/DB) replaced White and completed six of 10 passes for 98 yards with an interception.
Junior Jesse DeVore (WR/DB) had five catches for 90 yards and two touchdowns, and senior Aaron Gore (RB/LB) rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
"I thought our guys did a good job of just continuing to battle," Christ said. "There was a window of time ... where it was 28-20 and we had blocked a punt and had a couple of opportunities to tie the game, but couldn't find a way to get it done."
Mansaray finished with 1,431 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns on 194 carries despite missing time with the ankle injury. He was named first-team all-league.
White completed 67 of 144 passes for 1,128 yards with 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He replaced junior quarterback Peter Pedrozo, who broke his right collarbone in a 35-14 loss to Reynoldsburg on Sept. 27 and was lost for the season after completing 51 of 81 passes for 748 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions.
Seniors Ibukunoluwa Alfred (RB/LB), Jake Llaneza (TE/LB) and Pat Peterson (OL/DL) also were first-team all-league.
"We came a long way this season," Alfred said. "Nobody believed in us and we proved a lot of people wrong. ... The seniors left a big mark, coming in and seeing our team losing and then coming all the way (to the playoffs) as seniors. We're winning now, making a change and leaving a new standard."
DeVore, junior Devin Oteng-Achamfour (RB/LB), sophomore Brandon Armstrong (RB/DB) and Saunders were second-team all-league.
DeVore had 38 receptions for 618 yards and seven touchdowns, and Saunders had 20 catches for 370 yards and four touchdowns.
Senior Jaelon Gordon (WR/DB) was special mention all-league and senior Brendan Cleaver (OL/DL) was honorable mention all-league.
Other key players expected to return include juniors En-brass Fofanah (WR/DB), Ethan Gray (OL/DL), Elvis Gyabeng (RB/DL) and Cole Holbrook (OL/DL) and sophomore Javi'er Wills (WR/DB).
The Wildcats defeated Westerville North 49-21 on Oct. 17 and Westerville Central 23-20 in overtime Oct. 25.
"That's a big deal," Christ said of defeating Central and North. "Making the playoffs and having a winning season ... it's special. It's a big step in the right direction."