A rough start hasn’t derailed the season for the DeSales football team.
Following their run for second in Division III last season, the Stallions lost three of their first four and went on to lose 31-20 to Hartley on September 24 in their first CCL game to drop to 2-4 .
But DeSales then traveled to Steubenville and beat a still strong Big Red program 36-21 on October 1, setting him on a course in which he won his last four regular season games to claim the eighth seed for region 11 playoffs.
After defeating ninth-seeded Thornville Sheridan 21-14 on October 29 in a first-round game, the Stallions led Granville to the brink before falling 19-12 on November 5 to finish 7- 5.
“We had our backs to the wall for a while and we really stayed the course and played our best football at the end of the season,” said coach Ryan Wiggins, who completed his 15th season. “We had a few wins from behind and a playoff game at home. There was a lot of adversity. We have started over in many ways this year and it has improved over the year. That’s all you can do is get better.
Elder Jonathan Thompson (RB / LB), a Cincinnati rookie and district defensive player of the year last season, injured his ankle on Aug. 13 and did not return until the final week of the regular season.
Replacing Thompson as running back was a group that included junior Gabe Caruso (164 rushes, 670 yards, 7 TDs) and sophomore Avery Garlock (51 rushes, 434 yards, 5 TDs). Junior Liam Harmon (25 rushes, 190 yards, 2 TDs) is also expected to return to the backfield.
Garlock could also be a quarterback option with rookie PJ Noles as the Stallions look to replace senior Whit Hobgood, who rushed for 417 yards and nine touchdowns and completed 132 of 220 passes for 1,548 yards with 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
The Stallions will also have to replace their two best wide receivers in seniors Rechee Smith (31 receptions, 531 yards, 4 TDs) and Kyle Nicely (48 receptions, 467 yards, 5 TDs).
Sophomore Antonio Armistead Jr. (13 receptions) and junior Isaac Pekarcik (12 receptions) are expected to return to the wide receiver position, with junior Joel Clottey and sophomores Raesean Betton and Jake Velazquez eligible to return on the offensive line.
“In defense we were pretty young,” Wiggins said. “We’re going to lose Jonathan Thompson as linebacker, but we were also without him for 10 weeks. In our high school, (seniors) Jackson Carawan and Rechee Smith were playing well for us and (senior) Matteo Cua had a great year, so we will have to retool in this area.
Smith was joined in the district’s first team by senior offensive lineman Jalen Carpenter, second-year linebacker Max Shulaw and senior kicker Nathaniel Wallace-Dilling (38.0 yards per punt).
Seniors Joe Schaefer and Andrew Dunbar were other key offensive linemen, and junior Joey Bangert is expected to return to the kicker after making a field goal and 24 more points.
Defensively, junior lineman Asher Hayles and first-year lineman Ty Neubert join Shulaw as key returns up front.
Other candidates eligible to return after contributing primarily to defense include juniors Seamus Bonte (TE / LB), Omarion Conte (TE / LB), Jon Maas (WR / LB) and Kofi Oduro (RB / DL) and sophomore Cameron Gwinn (TE / DL).
Carpenter, Smith, Shulaw and Wallace-Dilling were on the whole district first team, Caruso and Hobgood were on the second team and Carawan, Hayles, Neubert, Nicely and Schaefer were special / honorable mention.
Carpenter, Hayles, Hobgood, Shulaw, Smith and Wallace-Dilling, Carawan, Caruso, Neubert, Nicely and Schaefer form the second team.
“We’ve had a lot of unfortunate situations this season with injuries and issues with school and the like,” said Shulaw. “With these adversities, we struggled to come together as a team as it seemed like there was a new person in each position every week. … Although we had a lot of turmoil this year, it shed a lot of light on the future of this program. We have had a lot of young players who have been through a college football game and I think the depth in almost every position will help us tremendously in the near future.
•Save: 7-5 in total
• CCL classification: Hartley (3-0), DeSales (2-1), Watterson (1-2), Saint-Charles (0-3)
• Elders lost: Patrick Anderson, Jackson Carawan, Jalen Carpenter, Ayan Comedy, Matteo Cua, Andew Dunbar, Whit Hobgood, Braden Jehn, Ben Mahle, Kyle Nicely, Joe Schaefer, Rechee Smith, Mickey Solazzo, Jonathan Thompson, Luke Trejchel and Nathaniel Wallace-Dilling
• Key returnees: Raesean Betton, Gabe Caruso, Joel Clottey, Avery Garlock, Asher Hayles, Max Materu, Ty Neubert, Max Shulaw and Jake Velazquez
• Playoffs: Def. Thornville Sheridan 21-14; lost to Granville 19-12 in Division III, region 11 quarter-final