Making the right adjustments made a big difference for the Harvest Prep football team this season.
While extending a string of playoff appearances to six that began in coach Milan Smith's first season, the Warriors were on their fourth-string quarterback by the time they lost to Lucas 15-12 in a Division VII state semifinal Nov. 30 at DeSales.
Some of the changes that have taken place inside the program, though, have been more subtle but just as important.
During Harvest Prep's other run to a state semifinal, in 2016, one of its top players was 2018 graduate Isaiah Mullens, who now is competing for Wisconsin.
Being in contact with the Badgers' coaching staff gave Smith tips on conditioning that came in especially handy this season as a roster of just more than 20 athletes survived its toughest schedule in program history and went 12-2 overall.
"We're in the weight room four times a week," Smith said. "We work out on game day, too. I picked that up from Wisconsin because we have a (former player there). That's helped with our guys being able to stay the course."
Harvest Prep had won 32 consecutive games in MSL-Cardinal Division play before moving to the MSL-Ohio this season. The Warriors went 6-0 in the MSL-Ohio to capture the league title, beating a Division II opponent in Whitehall (29-27 on Nov. 25) and a pair of Division III opponents in Bexley (33-0 on Oct. 18) and Buckeye Valley (40-3 on Sept. 20).
The Warriors opened Aug. 30 with a 13-12 loss to a Division III opponent in Eastmoor Academy but won their next 12 games, including defeating eighth-seeded Fisher Catholic (37-7 on Nov. 9), fourth-seeded Waterford (35-21 on Nov. 16) and second-seeded Newark Catholic (22-15 on Nov. 23) as the top seed to win the Region 27 title.
Against Lucas, Harvest Prep took a 12-7 lead with 7 minutes, 35 seconds left when junior quarterback Josiah Carroll connected with junior Rashaun Goines for a 76-yard touchdown pass.
Lucas scored the game-winning touchdown on a 13-yard pass from quarterback Logan Niswander to Riley Mounts on fourth-and-goal with 54 seconds remaining to improve to 12-2 and advance to a state final for the first time.
"We've lost a number of kids, and just to see the way the guys have stayed the course and every week compete as if it's their last opportunity, when you go out with that mentality, a couple things bounce your way," Smith said. "One thing is that we have a really strong faith system here. They're confident in who they are as young men. We concentrate more on the process than the final product. We understand that if we work hard and are diligent, good things happen."
There were only four seniors among the team's starters in the state semifinal in Desean Bonte (WR/DB), Javon Eggert (RB/DB), Khelin Jackson (OL/RB/DL) and Elijah Rogers (TE/DL).
Jackson and Rogers both made second-team all-state on defense and Eggert, who led the Warriors with more than 1,500 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns, was special mention all-state. Eggert, Jackson and Rogers also were first-team all-district and Bonte made the second team.
Junior linebacker Phillip Gibson-Perry was named first-team all-state and district Defensive Player of the Year, junior Manny Mullens (OL/DL) was special mention all-state on offense and first-team all-district, Goines (WR/DB) was special mention all-state on defense and first-team all-district and sophomore Jaylen Jennings (RB/QB/DB) was special mention all-state on offense and first-team all-district.
Senior Esco Davis (WR/DB) and sophomore Joseph Temple (LB/RB) were special mention all-district.
Others eligible to return include juniors Michael Dungey (OL), Omar Martinez (OL/DL), Patrick Moore Graves (OL/DL) and Neiko St. Clair (LB/RB) and sophomore Marrion Parks (LB/RB).
Harvest Prep began the season with junior Terrence Kee at quarterback before he became ineligible after five weeks because of the OHSAA transfer rule.
Freshman Aden Rogers was another who saw time behind center along with Carroll and Jennings.
Another key player the Warriors lost at midseason because of the transfer rule was senior running back Langston Perry, who rushed for 448 yards and three touchdowns on 54 carries.
"We, as a whole, have been able to get through adversity because of God and our next-man-up mentality," Eggert said. "We've had so many players who had to sit out or couldn't play due to the transfer rules or injuries, so we had to make a lot of young guys step up and fulfill their roles."