A week after quarterback Jay Banyasz gashed Archbold for 270 rushing yards, his offense was held to 282 by the tough Patriots defense.
The numbers certainly reflected the Raiders’ 56-15 Division V, Region 18 semifinal loss Saturday night at Harmon Field at Don Paul Stadium. However, while the loss stung, it certainly didn’t take away from a season to remember for the folks in Columbia Station.
After losing the season opener in a last-second 20-14 loss to Cleveland Central Catholic, the Raiders reeled off 10 wins — the most in school history.
The 39-34 first-round playoff win over Archbold last Saturday was not only the first postseason win for the Raiders in team history, but it was also the first time Columbia hosted a postseason football game.
And this team did it with just five seniors — tailback/nose guard Bryan Horn, fullback/outside linebacker Brandon Medina, guard/defensive tackle Brandon Cox, left tackle/inside linebacker Foster Tucker and kicker Matt Zelinsky.
“It’s not something you really expect when you’ve got five seniors on a football team,” Ward said. “These guys got so good so fast. This is going to be one that we’ll never forget, that’s for sure. Like I told the guys just now, we made some history this year and we did some great things — PAC champions, first home playoff game, first playoff win in school history — we’ve got nothing to hang our heads about.
“It’s been an amazing ride with an amazing bunch of guys. I love each and every one of them, and I can’t wait to get back at it and get ready for next year.”
Ward credited his seniors and what they’ve accomplished in their four years together.
“We were 5-5 when they were freshmen, but then we went 9-2, 7-3 and now 10-2 this year with two playoff berths,” Ward said. “We progressively got better each year as those guys grew. I think it’s safe to say that this senior class has won more games as a class than any other group of guys that have gone through there.”
Banyasz, who competed 19 of 40 passes for 223 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, was hurting just as much as his 46 teammates. However, he could look at what he and his team accomplished this season and be proud.
“To start off 0-1 and then win nine straight, making the playoffs, win the PAC, get a home playoff game, win that playoff game … we made school history,” he said. “It sucks that we have to end it out here on a 56-15 loss to a Patrick Henry team that well deserved it.
“We’re going to miss the seniors big time. There’s only five of them, including the kicker, but they were great players and they’re part of this family. It’s exciting to get a lot players coming back. Right now, I just want to focus on getting better.”
When a reporter brought up that 95 percent of this roster was returning next year, for the first time, a smile crept across Ward’s face.
“Weight room is the biggest thing,” he said. “We’ve got some outstanding athletes. Those juniors that are going to be seniors next year — hopefully, we can get a few of them to buy into our offseason program.
“These guys get in the weight room, and our attendance is fantastic, but it’s one thing to be there. It’s another thing to go in there and leave exhausted. I have a feeling that Patrick Henry’s got some guys that get in the weight room and leave exhausted, and we can take that away. We just need to get a little bigger, a little stronger and we aim to make another run at it next year.”
Ward told his players that they’ve figured out how to win in the playoffs. Now they have to work on winning the second round. Banyasz, for one, is ready to go back to work.
“I can’t wait to get started,” he said. “Games like this just make we want to work out. I want to go back and work on routes with my receivers. It just makes you that much hungrier seeing this team, seeing what you have to be in order to be in the next round of the playoffs. It shows what you have to do.
“Me, I’m going to whatever it takes. Seven-on-sevens, passing camps, weight room stuff … you name it.”