After the most successful season in program history came to an end Nov. 22, Groveport Madison football coach Bryan Schoonover focused less on a 23-7 loss to Pickerington Central in the Division I, Region 3 final at DeSales and more on the big picture.

The Cruisers went 10-3, setting a program record for victories, and advanced to the third round of the playoffs after having won just one postseason game before this year.

“They’re a bunch of fighters, they’re great kids and I love them to death,” Schoonover said. “It’s been an unbelievable run and I’m just so happy to be a part of something that special with our community and our school.”

Ultimately, fourth-seeded Groveport could not get a coveted second win this season over second-seeded Central, which the Cruisers had defeated 19-14 on Sept. 20.

Groveport had no first downs and 23 total yards at halftime, when it trailed 23-0 against a Tigers team that often put as many as 10 defenders within five yards of the line of scrimmage in winning its fourth consecutive regional title.

Junior slotback Jalil Underdown’s 14-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter was the Cruisers’ only score.

“We just couldn’t get first downs (in the first half). We only had three or four possessions and they stopped us pretty good,” Schoonover said. “The second half we were able to start putting drives together and get a score, trying to make it a little bit interesting.”

The game lacked the drama of Groveport’s two playoff wins, an 18-17 comeback victory over visiting and fifth-seeded Hilliard Davidson on Nov. 8 and a 13-7 win over top-seeded Olentangy Liberty in a regional semifinal Nov. 15 at Gahanna.

The Cruisers scored all of their points in the final five minutes to edge the Wildcats and held the Patriots to 33 yards rushing on 18 carries.

Groveport’s 10 wins eclipsed the previous program record of nine set in 1978 (9-1) and 1986 (9-2). The Cruisers qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2007 after going 4-1 in the OCC-Capital Division to share the league championship with Canal Winchester and New Albany.

It was the program’s first league title since 1982.

“The past few years the senior leadership wasn’t that huge,” said senior two-way lineman Te-Rah Edwards, a Northwestern commit. “This year we knew if we wanted to be successful, we had to lead the underclassmen, lead them to the right path and do the right things 100 percent of the time to get what we wanted.”

Groveport won its first four games and started OCC-Capital play 4-0 before a 35-7 loss at New Albany on Nov. 1.

Junior fullback Jashaun McGraw led the Cruisers in rushing with 1,058 yards and 11 touchdowns on 191 carries through 12 games. He was second-team all-league and second-team all-district.

Underdown had 104 carries for 958 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught four passes for 114 yards and two scores before the regional final. He was second-team all-league and special mention all-district.

Senior running back Emmanuel Anthony added 854 yards and 13 touchdowns on 108 carries through 12 games and was first-team all-league and special mention all-district.

Senior defensive end Jasiyah Robinson recorded 99 tackles and a school-record 13.5 sacks through 12 games and was named league Defensive Player of the Year and first-team all-district. He also had three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

Also earning first-team all-league were Edwards and classmates Skyler Mouser (LB), Darrell Smoot (TE/DE), Austin Snyder (K) and Nicholas Wheeler (OL/DL).

Senior Allan Joyce (FB/LB) and junior John Motton (DB) also were second-team all-league. Senior Ryan Burke (WR) was special mention all-league and junior Makarius Mosley (OL/DL) was honorable mention all-league.

Edwards and Snyder were first-team all-district and Schoonover was named district Coach of the Year. Mouser and Smoot were honorable mention all-district.

Edwards had 39 tackles and 4.5 sacks at defensive tackle during the regular season.

Snyder, who also was league Player of the Year in boys soccer, made 48 of 50 extra points and six of seven field goals.

As part of OCC realignment, Groveport will be in a six-team division next year with Central, Central Crossing, Lancaster, Newark and Reynoldsburg.

The Cruisers open at home next year against Canal Winchester.

“It’s been an incredible run. I love the seniors. They mean a lot to me and my family. They’re like my sons,” Schoonover said. “Our kids enjoyed this. It’s been a good year.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave