There was sadness, but not regret. There was disappointment, but there was no second-guessing. There was sorrow, but there also was tremendous pride.
That’s exactly the way it should be when you’ve made school history by winning in the playoffs for the first time, as the Buckeye football team did a week ago, and then simply lost to a better team, as the third-seeded Bucks did Friday in falling 40-21 to No. 2 seed Kenston in a Division III, Region 9 semifinal at Bedford’s Bearcat Stadium.
“Each week we progressed,” senior wide receiver/cornerback/kick returner Anthony Watkins said. “We did what we had to do. Last week, we made history. No one can ever take that away from us.”
While there was prolonged and completely justifiable jubilation a week ago after the Bucks (10-2) ended a nine-game playoff winless streak by beating No. 6 Alliance 28-25, there were no emotional meltdowns after Buckeye had its season ended by Kenston (11-1).
There also was no helmet-throwing and very little head-hanging, in large part because the Bucks are an extremely class group, but also in part because they realized the Bombers were the better team.
“You’ve got to give them props,” Buckeye senior running back/linebacker Dom Monaco said. “They were a really good team. But you’ve also to give props to our team for hanging in until the end.”
That the Bucks did, refusing to quit even after giving up 33 unanswered points and falling behind 40-7 with 10:05 to play.
After an explosive but diverse Kenston team scored a touchdown just 33 seconds into the game, ground-oriented Buckeye got third-and-long and fourth-and-long completions from junior quarterback Jacob Doerge, chewed 5:21 off the clock and tied the game midway through the first period.
It stayed that way until early in the second period, when Kenston, behind the four-headed monster of quarterback Jon Tomcufcik, running back Jack Porter and wide receivers Jay Middleton and Tyler Mintz, started converting third down after third down.
And when the Bombers didn’t convert on third down, they converted on fourth down.
Add a few interceptions from the Kenston defense and that’s how it became 14-7, then 20-7, then 26-7 just before halftime, then 33-7 midway through the third period, then 40-7 early in the fourth.
The Bucks, though, never quit. Even after a first-and-goal situation ended when they failed to convert fourth-and-goal from the 25 — the Bucks had a touchdown catch by Logan Schulz nullified by penalty — they scored 14 points in the final 4:05 to make the final score respectable.
Of course, quitting or hanging their head was never an option for the Bucks. If that was the case, Buckeye might have considered doing so after Week 1, when it was shellacked by Revere.
Instead, the Bucks regrouped and won 10 straight games, including that coveted first playoff victory in program history. That their season ended in Week 12 — for the first time — was nothing to be ashamed about.
“This taught me that hard work gets you places,” two-way senior lineman Ryan Smith said. “The family part of football is amazing. These guys are my brothers and I love them to death. It teaches you things — how to work together, how to be a better person and how to respect people.”
Despite playing in the extremely weak Patriot Athletic Conference, where they were the biggest school by far, the Bucks not only learned to give respect, but their ground-and-pound, never-say-die style earned them respect.
“We did something no one else has ever done,” Monaco said. “It’s definitely been a journey I’ll never forget.”
Monaco and the rest of the seniors shouldn’t forget. Nor should any of the underclassmen, for that matter, but a new journey starts next year when Buckeye begins playing in the much tougher Great Lakes Conference.
Regardless of what happens there, the Bucks always will keep fighting, striving to improve and never give up.
The latter is something junior offensive tackle Keegan Varney thought about doing when he dislocated his kneecap late last season, but he quickly came to his senses and realized that wasn’t an option.
“I’m so glad I didn’t quit,” he said before heading into the Buckeye locker room for the final time in 2018. “It’s been such a good season and such a good experience. We made school history.
“That’s something to be excited about, but tomorrow starts next year.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or email@example.com. Follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.