C-T 2019 AREA HS FOOTBALL PREVIEWS: Chillicothe alum Stephens' initial team came close to victory several times, sparking hope seasoned "O" line, experienced Blackwell-Segar backfield tandem can help generate turnaround after winless 2018

To say the first season of Polo High Panthers football under Chillicothe High graduate Reid Stephens didn’t produce the overall results he and PHS players and fans sought is indisputable, but the 0-10 record obscures the view backward some.
Coming off a 5-5 mark in veteran PHS coach Kyle Ross’ last year at the helm before he moved up to the district’s superitendancy, the Panthers had only a half-dozen players with starting experience – several on only one side of the ball – for Stephens to build around.
That meant growing pains were fully expected, and they definitely were felt. However, out of nine regular-season outings, Polo not only was competitive essentially half the time, but avoidance of the eventual victory-free season was very much within reach on multiple occasions – and, in fact, was only a yellow handkerchief away.
On a rainy Friday night in the week two home opener, the Panthers’ offense answered the call late in the game with an 8-plays, 40-yards drive that Wyatt Segar capped by catching a tying, 14-yards touchdown pass from Cody Blackwell. PHS then cracked the goal line on its conversion attempt, seemingly giving it a 10-8 lead with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter. However, a penalty was called on the hosts on the play and their next attempt from the 8-yard line was thwarted.
That led to overtime, in which, after Slater’s defense held on PHS’ opening series, the Wildcats twice converted on fourth downs and won, 14-8.
As the regular season hit its downslope in week six with Polo still seeking to provide Stephens with his inaugural win as a varsity head coach, the Panthers made not one, not two, but three bids to do so in a row, only to be denied.
At Maysville in week six, Segar’s 70-yards scoring dash followed a third-period defensive stand by the Panthers and sent the visitors to the last stanza owning an 18-16 margin. That score still held as the contest reached its last two minutes, but the Wolverines finally found paydirt a third time and won, 24-18.
The next week at Unionville, Blackwell found Segar for a 10-yards score on a fourth-and-goal play to knot things at 6-6 in the third quarter, only to again have the last stanza prove fruitless, points-wise, for PHS in what concluded as a 20-6 Putnam County triumph.
Finally, in week eight, a Trenton team that would blow Maysville away the next week could not shake Polo off its tail. Although THS led all the way, a 64-yards Nick Myers run in the third quarter and another Blackwell-to-Segar scoring hookup in the fourth twice drew host Polo within one score. However, with the latter of those two touchdowns going on the scoreboard with only 18 seconds left, once Trenton covered PHS’ onside kick, the Panthers had come up just short one more time.
So, while it would not have been the most auspicious of starts, a 2- or 3-wins season was not much beyond Polo’s reach.
That helps inform preseason perceptions for PHS which might not be as dire as one might project for a club coming off an “oh-fer.”
Stephens not only welcomes back 50 percent (nine) more players with starting experience than a year ago, but all of them had time on both offense and defense in 2018. That figures to put the Panthers far ahead of where they were entering last season.
Especially helpful is the fact that the productive backfield duo of Segar (5’9”, 165, sr.) and Blackwell (5’10”, 185, jr.) is still around. Also remaining on hand in the backfield after starting some in ’18 are Trysten Wolf (5’8”, 145, sr.) and Gavin Fitzwater (5’8”, 150, jr.), but Stephens foresees senior Tyler Feswire (6’, 195) and sophomores Quinten Umbaugh and Caleb Thompson – all returning lettermen – pushing action.
They’ll operate behind what could be a seasoned offensive line including returnees Chandler Bartlett (5’10”, 195, sr.), Aaron Latimer (5’8”, 170, sr.), Nic Scott (6’2”, 195, sr.), Earl Cory (6’, 345, sr.), Grant Mellon (5’8”, 170, jr.), and Andrew Stone (5’8”, 180, soph.) or possibly Chance Roby (5’10”, 185, sr.), Colten Tomblin (5’10”, 260, sr.), or Jace Bolling (6’2”, 215, soph.).
Defensively, Segar and Blackwell should lead the way from the linebacker spots again, probably joined by sophomores Umbaugh or Mason Chapman (5’10”, 170).
Up front, Scott, Latimer, Bartlett, and Nelson are top candidates, with Fesmire and Logan Chapman (6’, 185, jr.) also options.
In the secondary, look for Fitzwater and Wolf and possibly Thompson and Killian Roark (6’, 180, jr.).