Football: Upper Arlington Golden Bears motivated by strong finish
It might have taken longer than they hoped, but the Upper Arlington football team entered the offseason believing it had played its best late in the season, a one-point loss in the playoffs notwithstanding.
The Golden Bears finished 3-5 overall and 2-3 in the OCC-Central Division, but they won two of their final three games, four of their losses were by 10 points or fewer and their Division I, Region 3 quarterfinal Oct. 16 at third-seeded Westerville Central came down to the wire before an extra-point try hit the upright in the final 20 seconds of a 21-20 loss.
“The thing that stands out to me is how much we improved from the beginning of the season to the end. I know that’s a canned phrase a lot of coaches use, but I felt like we really hit our stride the later the season got,” first-year coach Justin Buttermore said. “Our schedule was brutal. We got dinged up early in some key positions. We weren’t healthy the entire year, but we gutted it out in our league and our tough schedule prepared us for anything we’d see.”
That might have been best illustrated in the two playoff games.
Seeded 11th in the region, UA avenged a 31-14 regular-season loss at league-rival Olentangy Orange with a 17-10 first-round win over the sixth-seeded Pioneers Oct. 9. Central held off UA 28-23 in the opener for both teams Aug. 28, and the rematch proved to be equally competitive.
Junior Carson Gresock was perhaps the leading constant for the offense, as he rushed for 1,301 yards and 10 touchdowns on 212 carries. Junior wide receiver Sam Cannon caught 40 passes for 558 yards and three touchdowns.
UA faced adversity at the quarterback position. Junior Simon Monnin began the season as the starter and completed 21 of 47 passes for 225 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions before suffering a season-ending broken collarbone during a 7-6 win at Hilliard Bradley to begin league play Sept. 4.
Sophomore James Hayek took over and was 69-for-117 for 886 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
The offensive line surrendered only three sacks all season as the defense recorded 13.
Senior linebacker Marco Landolfi led the Bears with 55.5 tackles, 49 of them solo. Junior linebacker Carter Brock was close behind with 53.
Senior linebacker Michael Ballenger made a team-leading 9.5 sacks.
Seniors Shea Keethler (DB) and Matthew Weaver (LB) and junior Luke Frederick (DB) each had an interception and Keethler and Weaver both recovered two fumbles.
“No one individual went outside the confines of the system. The group did a great job,” Buttermore said. “This defense proved itself against some really good teams. We played Olentangy Liberty close. We held Dublin Coffman scoreless in the first half, and then they were pretty impressive (in the rematch) against Orange.”
UA dropped three consecutive games after a 1-1 start, losing to Liberty 21-14 on Sept. 11 and then falling to Orange and Coffman (24-14 on Sept. 25) before a 35-0 win at Hilliard Davidson on Oct. 2 to end the regular season.
The Bears are scheduled to open next season at home against Reynoldsburg. Among their other non-league games are a Week 2 road game against Toledo St. Francis at the University of Toledo’s Glass Bowl and a Week 4 home meeting with Central.
“I’m looking forward to having an entire offseason with this team,” Buttermore said. “Everyone will have a much better understanding of what we want to do heading into next year. The No. 1 thing we’re preaching is that we have to get stronger in the weight room. We’re undersized in our league, and we have to make up for that.”
•Record: 3-5 overall
•OCC-Central standings: Dublin Coffman (5-0), Olentangy Liberty (4-1), Olentangy Orange (3-2), Upper Arlington (2-3), Hilliard Bradley (1-4), Hilliard Davidson (0-5)
•Seniors lost: Michael Ballenger, Aidan Berry, Mitchell Billman, Dominic Chiavaroli, Adam Cipriano, Jack Flowers, Zane Graver, Joe Hendrix, Jaylin Hines, Jack Hofmann, Reese Hurst, Garrett Junk, Shea Keethler, Cameron Koffel, Marco Landolfi, Peter Mimnaugh, Colin Moore, Brady Orlandini, Quinlin Scherl, Cameron Smith, Jack Sugar, Nick Utgard, Phillip Vilardo and Matthew Weaver
•Key returnees: Carter Brock, Doak Buttermore, Sam Cannon, Carson Gresock, James Hayek and Simon Monnin