Big Walnut: Golden Eagles miss out on winning season

Scott Gerfen
ThisWeek
Big Walnut senior quarterback Jagger Barnett completed 92 of 155 passes for 966 yards with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions this season. He was second-team all-district and first-team all-league.
Senior running back Caden Williams rushed for 1,535 yards and 16 touchdowns on 263 carries to lead the Golden Eagles. He was first-team all-league and all-district.

In evaluating his first season as Big Walnut’s football coach, Rob Page points to three key games, all of which happen to be close losses.

The setbacks -- to Mount Vernon (14-13 on Oct. 23), Dublin Scioto (15-14 on Oct. 2) and Westerville North (20-17 on Sept. 25) -- were by a combined five points.

The loss to North came on a last-second field goal and Scioto scored on a 36-yard pass on the final play of the game, an untimed down after a penalty.

“I think it shows just how close we are to being an eight-, nine- or 10-win team,” Page said.

The Golden Eagles finished 5-5 and defeated Logan 62-0 in the first round of the Division II, Region 7 playoffs Oct. 9 before losing again to Scioto, 31-13, in the second round Oct. 16.

Big Walnut produced its most victories since going 7-3 in 2014.

“A big thing in those games was not finishing, and when it came down to it, we made some stupid mistakes and penalties,” senior running back Caden Williams said. “That put (opponents) in a better position to win and us losing in those tight games. In our final playoff game, we had five turnovers, and you can’t win a football game like that.”

Williams, who was first-team all-league and all-district, led the Golden Eagles’ offense, rushing for 1,535 yards and 16 touchdowns on 263 carries.

Senior quarterback Jagger Barnett, a three-year starter, completed 92 of 155 passes for 966 yards with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. He was second-team all-district and first-team all-league.

Barnett suffered a leg injury in the first half of the Scioto playoff game but returned two weeks later and threw a touchdown pass in a season-ending 28-0 victory over Central Crossing on Oct. 30.

“It was really important for him to finish the season,” Page said. “He was pretty gimpy, and he wasn’t 100%, but that just shows you the character he has and how important Big Walnut football is to him.”

Sophomore Cam Gladden caught 34 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns as Big Walnut went 5-5.

Sophomores Grant Coulson (37 catches, 434 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Cam Gladden (34 catches, 255 yards, 2 TDs) and senior Sam Fortney (11 catches, 179 yards, 3 TDs) were Barnett’s top receivers.

Junior Mark Ruffing (second-team all-district and all-league) and senior Cole Wecker (special mention all-league) were standouts on the line for an offense that averaged 26.8 points per game.

“Our offensive line across the board was as good as any in our league,” Page said.

Expected to return up front are three juniors in center Wyatt Lenz and guards Aiden Hernandez and Grant Ferris.

Freshman quarterback Jake Nier completed 15 of 31 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown in Barnett’s absence.

Defensively, Big Walnut held opponents to 14.2 points per game.

Senior linebacker A.J. Leasure (first-team all-league, second-team all-district) was the anchor, with a team-best 115 tackles and three sacks. Senior linebacker Gordon Rond (88 tackles, 3 sacks) was second-team all-league and special mention all-district.

In the secondary, senior Brady Hershberger (56 tackles) and junior Lane Pritchard (43 tackles) were leaders. Hershberger was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district, and Pritchard was honorable mention all-league.

Big Walnut expects juniors Lucas Tindall (LB), Lawrence O’Malley (LB), Wes Skinner (DL) and Christian Takatch (DL), sophomore Ethan Clawson (DL) and freshman Garrett Stover (DB) to be key contributors next season.

“I’m proud of the way our guys finished, how hard they played and how together they were,” Page said. “It made them a really fun group to coach. The future is bright at Big Walnut.”

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FOOTBALL

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: Jake Ambrose, Jake Bales, Zach Barnecut, Jagger Barnett, John Embaugh, Justin Embaugh, Alex Fletcher, Sam Fortney, Matt Fry, Brady Hershberger, A.J. Leasure, Zeus Martinez, Gordon Rond, Mark Ruffing, Jake Ross, Mahlon Spangler, Gage Sutton, Cole Wecker, Caden Williams and Zach Willoughby-Neal

Key returnees: Ethan Clawson, Grant Coulson, Grant Ferris, Cam Gladden, Aiden Hernandez, Wyatt Lenz, Jake Nier, Lawrence O’Malley, Lane Pritchard, Christian Takatch and Lucas Tindall

Postseason: Defeated Logan 62-0; lost to Scioto 31-13 in second round of Division II, Region 7 playoffs