A slow start didn't stop the Worthington Christian football team from having a chance to win its first playoff game in program history.
The fifth-seeded Warriors gave up a pair of first-quarter touchdowns against host and fourth-seeded Covington on Nov. 8 in a Division VI, Region 24 first-round game and trailed 27-7 at halftime before chipping away at the lead.
They got to within 27-21 on a 1-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Lucas Hartings late in the third quarter.
After falling behind 33-21, Worthington Christian answered with a 43-yard touchdown pass from Hartings to sophomore D.J. Moore with 3 minutes, 43 seconds remaining to cut the deficit to six points.
However, the Buccs got the ball at their own 43 and picked up two first downs to run out the clock for a 33-27 victory.
Despite the loss, the Warriors enjoyed their best season in their six-year history, finishing 8-3 overall and winning their first league championship by going 4-0 in the MSL-Cardinal Division.
"(Covington has) got a really good team," coach Jeff Hartings said. "They've got a really good offensive line, a good quarterback, good wide receivers. ... They're very well-coached and they've played very good teams and have been playing those teams for a while. I know they know what it takes to get to the playoffs and what it takes to win important games like this."
Worthington Christian closed the regular season on a five-game winning streak. Its other two losses came against Galion Northmor (42-17 on Sept. 6) and Glouster Trimble (34-6 on Sept. 27), both of which made the Division VI playoffs.
Wins over eventual playoff qualifiers Fisher Catholic (31-21 on Oct. 5) and Dayton Christian (31-22 on Oct. 11) put the Warriors in position to make the postseason for the first time.
Against Covington, Lucas Hartings was 16-for-31 passing for 254 yards with two interceptions and one interception and rushed for two scores, while Moore had five catches for 106 yards and a touchdown, sophomore wide receiver Jaiden Reynolds had four catches for 72 yards and one score and junior running back Braden Anderson added four receptions for 46 yards.
On the season, Hartings completed 144 of 252 passes for 2,418 yards with 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and rushed for 342 yards and 11 touchdowns on 80 carries.
Anderson rushed 98 times for 703 yards and nine touchdowns and had two receiving touchdowns, Moore had 52 catches for 1,123 yards (21.6 average) and 12 touchdowns and Reynolds had 29 receptions for 435 yards and four scores.
"We've got a strong running back that can hit the hole and who's very versatile (in Anderson)," Lucas Hartings said. "I've been very confident in our passing game and receiving corps. (Moore) has been having a great season in his first season with us. He's been really easy to throw to."
Other top seniors included Dillon Fulks (DB/WR), Caleb Harper (OL/DL), Ryan Snedecor (OL/DL), Jake Thompson (WR/DB) and Landon West (LB/RB).
Thompson finished with 24 receptions for 265 yards and four touchdowns on offense and 27.5 tackles and two interceptions on defense.
Fulks had 22 tackles and one interception, Harper had 45.5 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks and West had 36 tackles in addition to being one of the team's top kick returners.
Anderson had 62.5 tackles and 12 tackles for loss at linebacker and was joined at that position by sophomores Daelon Johnston (43 tackles, 6 tackles for loss) and Tyler White (41 tackles) and freshman Josh Carrel (53 tackles).
On the defensive line, juniors Jeb Burford (16 tackles), Zach Hoheisel (33 tackles, 5 tackles for loss) and Chase Fourman (28.5 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss) all are eligible to return.
Reynolds (35 tackles, 2 interceptions) and sophomore Jackson Moore (22.5 tackles) are among those who should return in the secondary.
Others eligible to return include junior Ben King (RB/LB) and freshmen Cayden Lassiter (QB) and Grant Moore (WR/LB).
Sophomore kicker Grant Woodfin made four field goals and 32 extra points.
"It's been exciting," coach Hartings said. "Get a victory one week, get a loss one week, come back on Monday and get refocused. Our community is very excited about clinching the league title a couple weeks ago and clinching a playoff spot. ... We've had a lot of good players this year."