As the Harvest Prep football team wrapped up its postgame huddle Nov. 16 at Thornville Sheridan, there were a few smiles but a mostly quiet exit.
The top-seeded Warriors had built a three-score lead on their way to defeating fourth-seeded Waterford 35-21 to send them to the Division VII, Region 27 final for the second time in program history, but they left believing that work needed to be done.
Harvest Prep will face second-seeded Newark Catholic for the regional championship Saturday, Nov. 23, at Westerville Central.
The Warriors are 11-1, while the Green Wave improved to 9-3 with a 40-0 rout of third-seeded Shadyside in a regional semifinal Nov. 16 at Byesville Meadowbrook.
"It feels good, but I know we could have played better and we're going to play better (this) week," senior running back Javon Eggert said. "So it's kind of a win-loss situation, but at the same time, we're going to come back better (this) week."
The regional final represents the first meeting between Harvest Prep and Newark Catholic since the 2011 season opener when the Warriors won 33-14. However, the Green Wave are 4-1 all-time against Harvest Prep.
The regional champion advances to a state semifinal Nov. 30.
In the other regional finals Nov. 23, Cuyahoga Heights plays Lucas, Leipsic faces Hamler Patrick Henry and New Bremen plays Maria Stein Marion Local.
Eggert rushed for 175 yards and five touchdowns on 27 carries against Waterford to lead Harvest Prep, which has reached the postseason in each of coach Milan Smith's six seasons and won its only regional title in 2016 when it lost in a state semifinal.
"We just didn't look very sharp (against Waterford)," Smith said. "We did some things well, but to be a championship program, you've got to be in sync in all aspects of the game and we just weren't in sync. Credit to their coaching staff. They did some things on defense that made us uncomfortable and we've got to get better."
With the Warriors leading 14-7 late in the third quarter, Elijah Rogers ripped the ball from Waterford's Holden Dailey and ran to the Wildcats' 5-yard line. That set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Eggert.
Eggert then scored on a 4-yard run with 7 minutes, 22 seconds left to give Harvest Prep a 28-7 lead.
Junior Josiah Carroll, who was playing just his second game as full-time quarterback, rushed for 81 yards on 11 carries to complement the running of Eggert and a defense that forced four turnovers.
"A lot of it had to do with blocking up front," Eggert said. "We started off real fast in the first half and kind of slowed it down and that kind of stopped us a little bit. In the second half, all of our guys wanted to win so we had to bring it."
Newark Catholic led Shadyside 19-0 by halftime in its return to the postseason after a two-year absence following back-to-back 3-7 finishes.
Senior quarterback Matt Carlisle, who was named district co-Offensive Player of the Year, completed only two of eight passes for 47 yards but rushed 12 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns against Shadyside. Derek Hawk (11 carries, 107 yards, 1 TD) and Kyle Langenbrunner (2 carries, 89 yards, 1 TD) also contributed to the Green Wave's ground game.
Slater Evans had two interceptions and Ryan Poly had one for Newark Catholic, which is in the postseason for the 36th time and has won eight state titles.
Ryan Aiello is in his second season as Green Wave coach and has been assisted this fall by Brian Cross, who won 248 games in 37 seasons as a head coach before joining the program.
"They're a storied program and they're right back in the right place again, so they're doing something right," Smith said. "We're like the new guys on the block. I know we've been (in the playoffs the) last six years, but it's the only six years in the playoffs for the school. They've got tradition following them and I've heard they've got a really good team. I'm sure it'll be a good game. If we play like (we did against Waterford), it'll be over fast."