Dublin Jerome football coach Bob Gecewich provided a passionate speech to his team moments after a 37-14 loss to top-seeded Springfield in a Division I, Region 2 semifinal Nov. 15 at Marysville.
He thanked the 23 seniors for their contributions and challenged the underclassmen to maintain the program's high expectations in the seasons ahead.
"You spend so much time with these guys and for the commitment they give us, you have to appreciate it and you have to care about them," Gecewich said. "Our kids are pretty resilient and they committed quite a bit."
According to Gecewich and his players, the Celtics weren't highly thought of entering the season. They responded by winning their first outright league championship, qualifying for the postseason, winning their playoff opener and finishing 9-3 overall.
Jerome went 6-1 in the OCC-Cardinal Division as Hilliard Darby and Olentangy Berlin tied for second at 5-2. The Celtics shared league titles in 2008, 2015 and 2016.
"It feels great to go 9-3 when people thought we were going to go 2-8," senior two-way lineman Nate Kovach said. "There were people in our school that didn't believe in us. There were different news places that didn't believe in us and we kept that same attitude all year. We were underdogs for almost every game. People were not believing in us, but we didn't care. It's just about us and if we focus on us, we can get things done."
Fourth-seeded Jerome defeated fifth-seeded Springboro 38-31 in five overtimes in the first round of the playoffs Nov. 8 at home before falling to Springfield.
The Celtics trailed Springfield 13-0 at halftime before cutting their deficit to 13-7 with a 78-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Ryan Miller to junior wide receiver Sammy Stoner early in the third quarter.
Springfield answered with three touchdowns to stretch its lead to 34-7 by the end of the third quarter. Miller scored on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter to make it 34-14 before the Wildcats added a field goal.
Springfield, which improved to 11-1 and advanced to play third-seeded Coffman in the regional final Friday, Nov. 22, rushed for 278 yards on 40 carries.
Stoner, who also plays in the secondary, added a fumble recovery and an interception against the Wildcats.
It was the second regional semifinal appearance for Jerome. The first came in 2016, when the Celtics lost to Lorain 30-14.
On the season, Miller completed 127 of 224 passes for 1,428 with 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and rushed for 575 yards and 10 touchdowns on 116 carries. He was named OCC-Cardinal Offensive Player of the Year and second-team all-district.
Senior Adam Booth (RB/LB) led the team in rushing with 1,001 yards and 13 touchdowns on 220 carries and had the game-winning score against Springboro, catching a 27-yard touchdown pass from Miller in the fifth overtime. Booth was named first-team all-league and second-team all-district.
Seniors Joe Huber (OL/DL), Dominic Nardone (RB/LB) and Scott Sonnanstine (DB) were first-team all-district and all-league. Nardone had a team-best 107 tackles.
Senior Jacob Nally (WR/DB) was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district, Kovach also was first-team all-league and seniors Travis Leonard (WR/DB) and Ryan Richards (WR/LB) and junior Jack Soehner (RB/LB) were second-team all-league. Soehner had 101 tackles.
Stoner, who had 22 receptions for 411 yards and three touchdowns, was special mention all-league and senior Dan Wilson (OL/DL) was honorable mention all-league.
"I remember when I was a freshman and the seniors were telling me when you get to be a senior you're going to feel the same way we do and you're going to work hard just like we do and I felt that (Nov. 15)," Kovach said. "Coach watched us for four years. I remember it just like it was yesterday when I walked in as a freshman. It's some of the best memories of my life."
Among the key players expected to return are juniors Carter Barco (WR/DB), Noah Dorsey (OL), Nate Kirk (RB/LB), Seth Martin (WR/DB) and Sean McCarthy (OL/DL) and sophomores David Adolph (WR) and Preston Everhart (RB/LB).
Martin had 41 catches for 383 yards and two touchdowns and Barco had 24 receptions for 282 yards and five scores.
"Winning the league title was great, but the highlight of our season was watching our kids work every day," said Gecewich, who shared league Coach of the Year honors with Berlin's Mark Nori.
"They really just focused on themselves in a good way, not in a selfish way. It was cool to watch the maturity process, not necessarily as football players, but just as people."