raised bar despite falling short of goal

raised bar despite falling short of goal

Image Credit: Justin Smith

After reaching the Division III state semifinals last year, West Holmes entered the 2022 football season with lofty goals.

Winning a Div. IV state title was at the top of that list.

Although the Knights came up short of that goal — their season ended with a 40-35 loss to Van Wert in a regional semifinal on Nov. 12 at Harding Stadium in Marion — what they achieved this season was quite remarkable.

West Holmes coach Zach Gardner said the loss is an opportunity for each of his players to learn a life lesson about how to properly respond to bad things that happen in life.

“Like I told the kids (in the postgame huddle), I would rather fail trying to do something extraordinary than be content doing something average,” he said. “We tried to do something extraordinary around here. We didn’t quite reach our goal, but if you aim for the stars and you hit the treetops, you’re doing just fine.”

The Knights (12-1) dominated most of their opponents this season, enacting a running clock in each of their first 12 games. When they found themselves trailing Van Wert (12-1) 21-0 early in the second quarter, they were in unfamiliar territory. Rather than throw in the towel, they continued to fight and took their first lead of the game — 35-34 — with just over five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

Although they ultimately came up short, they left it all out on the field. And they should be commended for that.

“These are memories that I’ll never forget,” Knights senior quarterback Mason Wolfe said. “Growing up with these kids and playing together since we were like 5, I’m just grateful to have them. I love every single one of them.”

West Holmes finished the regular season undefeated for the second consecutive season and won its second straight outright Ohio Cardinal Conference championship. The Knights scored at least 35 points in every game this season and held 10 of their 13 opponents to 14 points or less.

To put it simply, they were dominant this season. And they raised the program’s future expectations even higher.

“We have expectations,” Gardner said. “We have goals that we want to meet. Any program worth their salt has high goals.”

Gardner said the toughest part of the loss is saying goodbye to his seniors.

“We thank our seniors for everything they’ve done for us,” he said. “What a group of kids.”

When asked to summarize the season, Gardner said it was fun and the ride of a lifetime.

“The group of kids that came together, just the synergy is the word, from a group of kids and coaches that just fed off each other and loved fighting as a family,” he said. “That’s the hardest part of this. We don’t get to go fight as a family next week.”

The Knights’ future remains bright, with several talented starters returning next season and a loaded junior varsity team full of potential playmakers. The returning players plan to use the loss to Van Wert as motivation throughout the offseason.

“To have that bar set so high (this season), I’m pretty sure everyone in the area thought we had a really sound shot at the state title this year,” said junior Kyle Maltarich, who will be one of next season’s team leaders. “To come out here and get shocked like this, I think it’s almost a ‘wow’ to everyone. We have to take this and keep this feeling and every time you don’t want to do that extra rep and you don’t want to do that extra set, you have to think of this moment.”