The most wins in a season, the first sectional championship since 2016 and some great performances filled the regular season and sectional rounds of 2023 Delaware County high school football.
The only team that remains in the state tournament is the Delta Eagles (8-4) after defeating Garrett (6-6) in the sectional championship. That achievement brings others with it. Before the season started, head coach Chris Overholt said he wanted his team to retake the “765.”
“This was a big year for putting Delta back on the map,” Overholt said. “No one was really talking about us anymore.”
Part of this season’s success can be traced to how last season ended. The Eagles finished the 2022 season with a 3-7 record and a sectional loss to their rivals, the Yorktown Tigers.
“You didn't want to endure that again,” Overholt said. “And we had enough kids on the field that didn't want to go through that again.”
Senior running back Kaiden Bond, receiver Johny Manor and linebacker Braxton Russel are just a few names who have all been key components.
Bond leads the Eagles with 817 rushing yards and nine touchdown rushes. Before the season, he switched positions, which allowed junior Bronson Edwards to take over the starting quarterback role. Edwards has 1,550 passing yards and 15 touchdown passes heading into Delta’s regional matchup.
Now the Eagles move on to face Bishop Chatard (12-0) at home in a regional championship contest Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.
Coming into this season, Wes-Del football was not a program known for winning. In their last three seasons, the Warriors only recorded a combined four wins.
“Our big focus was trying to increase our numbers and increase the product you're seeing on the field,” Warriors head coach Matt Nuckols said. “[We wanted] to get our guys bigger, faster, stronger and better.”
With that mindset, the Warriors still struggled and started the season 1-5. After falling to Monroe Central 27-0 in week six, things changed during a halftime speech.
“Us coaches really challenged the team with making those big plays and not expecting someone else [to do it],” Nuckols said. “It was a game that we went into expecting to be a little more successful in that first half.”
After calling out the seniors, they became the leaders the warriors needed. Senior quarterback Triton Blevins finished the season with 1,035 passing yards, 11 passing touchdowns and just one interception. On the ground, he ran for 444 yards and nine touchdowns.
Another senior, Trey Adams, ran for 698 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. He also logged 450 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
Even though their season is over after a 43-34 loss to Monroe Central in the semi sectional matchup Oct. 27, the work next year has already begun.
“The biggest push looking at the next season is making sure from day one, we just continue to push that pride in the weight room,” Nuckols said. “I think that's going to continue to grow, because the weight room is something you have to do but something we love to do.”
The 2023 season was like looking in a mirror for Muncie Central after 2022. An identical record (4-6), same conference standing and the same end result with a first round sectional loss to Beech Grove.
One of the few bright spots was first-year quarterback Leo Boyd. He was the epitome of a dual threat as he amassed 771 yards and seven touchdowns through the air, and 1,044 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.
It was a slow start to the year for the Bearcats as they replicated a five-game losing streak from the previous season.
“Starting 0-5 is rough,” head coach Kyle Padgett said. “The things that us as a coaching staff go through, and that your players go through. The doubts you start to have, they just start to seep in.”
A major key for the Bearcats turnaround was the contributions and leadership from some unexpected players such as sophomore linebacker Marquis Allen.
“We had a tighter locker room,” Padgett said. “A team that enjoyed being around each other and didn’t want it to end. They wanted to keep playing til November, and that was the difference from last year.”
The Bearcats rode the leadership wave into a four-game winning streak to close out the regular season. They dominated the home stretch, outscoring their opponents 170-75.
Muncie Central was in search of its first sectional win since 2016, however, it ended in heartbreak as they fell to Beech Grove 42-28 Oct. 20.
The Tigers ended the 2022 season with a sectional championship and a 9-4 record. As they geared up for this season, they knew they needed some new weapons on offense due to the graduation of Swiss army knife Kolton Nanko.
However, injuries and streaky play led to Yorktown’s 5-6 record and their sectional semifinals exit.
The 2023 season started on a low note as on the very first play of the year, as senior running back Jalen Thomas, a near 1,300 yard rusher last season, went down with a season-ending injury.
There was a need for leadership to rally the team after the early season losses. Wilhelm looked to his captains to find that leadership to bring his team back together.
“We have guys who understand what our culture is about -- Mason Moulton, Sean Gibson and Jayce Key -- were purposeful every single day in making sure that our team was attempting to head in the right direction,” Wilhelm said.
Yorktown was able to shake off the losses and open the season 2-0 against the likes of Anderson and Muncie Central, outscoring them 105-13.
“We had several woulda, coulda, shoulda games this year,” Wilhelm said. “That truly demonstrates that every one of those plays matters. It certainly mattered in the Greenfield game, and in our first and second Delta game they mattered.”
Yorktown went on to win their first round sectional matchup, but then fell to rival Delta in the sectional semifinal 21-24 Oct. 27.
“It’s a different feeling because we have to hear about it,” Wilhelm said. “We see the paper, I hear it on the radio. We’re continuously reminded about it, that’s what makes it a little more challenging [to forget].”
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