Football: Hilliard Darby Panthers showed growth throughout season

Stephen Borgna
ThisWeek group
Beau Bridges, left, Dominic Molnar and  Benjamin Marsh celebrate Darby's 21-7 victory over host Gahanna in the first round of the Division I, Region 3 playoffs. After starting 1-3, the Panthers won three of four to finish 4-4 overall and 3-2 in the OCC-Cardinal.

By the end of the season, Hilliard Darby football coach John Santagata said the Panthers had grown throughout the previous eight weeks to embody what it means to play “Darby football.”

According to Santagata, that means playing with toughness, heart and determination. 

“I think it took us a couple of weeks to sort of understand what we’re about, eliminating mistakes, playing sound defense, controlling the ball on offense, playing really clean special teams,” he said. “And that didn’t click early, but I thought it did as we progressed.” 

The Panthers started 1-3, but their victory during that stretch was a 31-28 win over eventual OCC-Cardinal Division champion Marysville on Sept. 4. Darby went on to win three of their remaining four games to finish 4-4 overall and 3-2 in the OCC-Cardinal. 

The season ended Oct. 16 with a 35-16 loss to host Pickerington Central in the second round of the Division I, Region 3 playoffs. The Panthers, who were seeded ninth, defeated eighth-seeded Gahanna 21-7 in the first round Oct. 9. 

“I thought as a team we had a very successful season this year,” junior quarterback Blake Horvath said. “Obviously this season was unlike any other, but I thought we played very well, and I was very proud of our guys for being able to play our style of football with limited time to put everything into our game plan with our shortened summer.

“We wanted to end our season on a win, of course, but we learned a lot of things this year that we can carry over to next year. As the season went on, we put lots of emphasis on ball control and limiting our mistakes. I feel that’s something we need to take with us into this next season and focus on controlling what we can control.” 

Horvath completed 34 of 60 passes for 416 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in his first season as a starter. He also more of a threat running the ball, finishing with 1,186 yards and 20 touchdowns on 156 carries. 

“The more Blake played, the better he got,” said Santagata, whose team will lose 20 seniors. “From what he did in just playing eight games … was pretty good. I thought he had a tremendous year, and he did a great job leading and being a great teammate.” 

Horvath was first-team all-league along with seniors Connor Jones (RB/LB), Bradley Weaver (TE/DL), Jacob Neri (OL/DL) and Braeden Fichtner (WR/DB). 

Senior Andrew Williams (OL/DL), juniors Cade Mills (WR/DB) and Brady Smith (OL/DL) and sophomore Ben Marsh were second-team all-league, while junior Hayden Gladden (OL/DL) was special mention all-league and junior Nate Burdick (RB/DB) was honorable mention.

Among those expected to play key roles next season are Burdick, Gladden, Horvath, Mills, juniors Jake Baird (WR/DB) and Matthew Sech (WR/DB) and sophomores Logan Braddock (OL/DL) and Beau Bridges (RB/DB). 

sborgna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSteve

•Record: 4-4 overall

•OCC-Cardinal standings: Marysville (4-1) Olentangy, Berlin and Darby (all 3-2), Jerome (2-3), Thomas (0-5) 

•Seniors lost: Blayne Barnes, Leroy Berberena, Colin Bodak, Sam Buoni, Sam Donnelly, Josh DiGioia, Braeden Fichtner, Damien Garay, Connor Jones, Kole Kendall, Kanaan Kittaneh, Mahmoud Khalil, Gabe Lopez, Jacob Neri, Omar Urena De La Cruz, Matt Rex, John Scholl, Brad Weaver, Andrew Williams and Eric Williams Jr. 

•Key returnees: Jake Baird, Logan Braddock, Beau Bridges, Nate Burdick, Hayden Gladden, Blake Horvath, Ben Marsh, Cade Mills, Matthew Sech and Brady Smith 

•Postseason: Defeated Gahanna 21-7; lost to Pickerington Central 35-16 in second round of Division I, Region 3 playoffs