Football: Canal Winchester Indians look to build on strong finish

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Stephan Byrd, who committed to Cincinnati on Nov. 9, leads the list of returnees for Canal Winchester. Byrd rushed for 1,363 yards and 19 touchdowns on 166 carries as the Indians finished 5-5 overall and 2-4 in the OCC-Capital Division.

Canal Winchester football coach Josh Stratton’s favorite memories of this season included the Indians winning four of their final five games, but he was quick to emphasize that the turning point came in a loss. 

Stratton cited a 42-24 loss at Westerville South on Sept. 25 that, while it dropped the Indians to 1-4, had a different feel. 

“Nobody likes a moral victory but ultimately, we had a tremendous game plan. We racked up (419) yards and left some points on the field,” Stratton said. “We changed up our defense heading into that game, which helped us out. I just liked our attitude leading up to the game. I think that’s when the whole team felt like we started to figure things out. 

“The week before against Westerville North (a 21-7 loss) was our worst game of the season, no doubt. That week was a fork in the road, and we chose the right path. We put things together a lot more after that.” 

Cleveland Taylor was one of 24 seniors for the Indians, who defeated Mount Vernon 45-7 in the first round of the Division II playoffs. The win was the program's third in the playoffs.

Canal Winchester finished 5-5 overall and 2-4 in the OCC-Capital Division, recorded the third playoff win in program history and hoped that it found solid footing heading into a 2021 season that will be the senior year for standout running back Stephan Byrd and features a challenging schedule. 

Not only did Byrd – who committed to Cincinnati on Nov. 9 – rush for 1,363 yards and 19 touchdowns on 166 carries, he led the team in catches (11), receiving yards (262) and touchdown catches (four) and played linebacker for the last several weeks of the season. 

For his career, Byrd has 603 carries for 4,120 yards and 52 touchdowns. 

“He’s going to have an even bigger role next year,” Stratton said. “(Linebacker) is somewhere we figured he could help us and he did. He did a nice job.” 

In his first season as a starter, junior Reese Musick completed 41 of 95 passes for 716 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions and added 509 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on 119 carries.

Junior quarterback Reese Musick showed improvement throughout his first year as a starter, completing 41 of 95 passes for 716 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions and had 119 carries for 509 yards and seven scores. 

Senior linebackers Blaine Riley and Luke Twiss had 73.5 and 41.5 tackles, respectively, to lead the defense. 

Canal Winchester, whose first six games were within the league, opened Aug. 28 with a 33-14 home loss to Worthington Kilbourne. A 64-14 win at Franklin Heights on Sept. 4 was followed by a 28-21 home loss to Dublin Scioto on Sept. 11 and the setbacks to North and South before a 49-28 win over Delaware on Oct. 2.  

Seeded 17th in Division II, Region 7, the Indians won 45-7 at 16th-seeded Mount Vernon in the first round Oct. 9 and lost 42-0 at top-seeded Massillon Perry on Oct. 16. 

They finished with regular-season road wins over Groveport (29-26 on Oct. 24) and Hilliard Davidson (42-17 on Oct. 30). 

Canal Winchester's Bryce Barnes tackles Worthington Kilbourne’s Justin Allen in the opener. Barnes, a senior defensive back, was named special mention all-league.

Byrd, senior Jonathan Chandler (OL) and Riley earned first-team all-league. Senior Landon Talbott (OL), Twiss and sophomore Mason Fry (OL) were second-team all-league, senior Bryce Barnes (DB) was named special mention all-league and senior Andre Heglar (WR, nine catches, 108 yards) was honorable mention all-league. 

Other players eligible to return include junior two-way lineman Connor Well, who missed the entire season because of injury. 

Canal Winchester is scheduled to open next season at home against Groveport. The non-league schedule also includes a road game at Central Crossing and a home contest against perennial power Hartley, which was the Division III, Region 11 runner-up. 

“Our league is going to be pretty good again next year, too,” Stratton said. “Obviously South had a great year (as a Region 7 semifinalist). Dublin Scioto won seven games. Westerville North had a great year for their program. We have to match everyone else and that starts with a great offseason.” 

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekDave 

Record: 5-5 overall 

OCC-Capital standings: Westerville South (5-0), Dublin Scioto and Westerville North (both 5-1), Big Walnut and Worthington Kilbourne (both 3-3), Canal Winchester (2-4), Franklin Heights (0-5), Delaware (0-6) 

Seniors lost: Bryce Barnes, Jerome Bowden, Noah Carter, Jonathon Chandler, Jake Chapman, Marshall Cobb, Dontes Cosby, Derrik Davis, Jake Francis, Andre Heglar, Chris Hupka, Jayden Lewis, Korbin Martino, Joey Moreno, Trent Morningstar, Shane Raver, Blaine Riley, Adam Scott, Graham Snider, Landon Talbott, Cleveland Taylor, Luke Twiss, Seth Ward and Isaiah Wilson 

Key returnees: Stephan Byrd, Mason Fry, Reese Musick and Connor Well