All Toronto needed was one win in five games

TORONTO — Midway through the year, the Toronto football team was on its way to another successful season, but then it took a turn for the worse and ended up in heartbreaking fashion.

After beginning the season 4-1, the Red Knights were in position to make the playoffs for a school record-tying fourth straight season. However, disaster struck as Toronto went on to lose its last five games, including a 40-34 heartbreaker to rival Wellsville on the road in a game that came down to the final play.

“Four seniors ended the season with us,” Toronto (4-6) head coach Eric Meek said. “They have acoomplished a lot. They made the playoffs their first three seasons. They have meant so much to the progam.

“Going back to the Edison game, we beat them, and then we turnaround and beat Southern Local in a thrilling game. Then, we hit a stretch of playing outstanding opponents and the scores were lopsided. I hoped we would be able to get a win against Wellsville and that we would make the playoffs. That would have been a great year, but it did not happen.”

The four seniors are Luke Fogle, Avery Watkins, Jake Keenan and Nate Keenan.

“Luke was our quiet leader,” Meek said. “He was the leader in the weight room. He is the strongest kid on the team, and he is the strongest kid in the high school. He will possibly play college football.

“Jake was our big-name receiver. He was having a great season. Unfortunately, he suffered a freak accident that required surgery in Pittsbugh. The great news is he was finally fully released by the doctors. We had hoped to make the playoffs, and if we did he would be playing this week. Jake is going to play college football.

“Avery Watkins was our center. He also lettered last season. Nate Keenan was a role player for us. He is No. 1 in his class. He pulled double duty. He was in the marching band at halftime. He would be at band practice, and then he would come across town to football practice. He would put his football stuff on and he would come out and practice with us.”

Toronto entered the season as a young team, and a lot of the younger players on the roster gained valuable experience.

“I am proud of the season we had,” Meek said. “We played a lot of underclassmen. We played 10 on defense and nine on offense. The future looks bright for the program. Our numbers are good. We had 45 players; that is very good for a school our size. Our middle school teams had success this season.”

The younger players progressed throughout the season.

“Yes, they did,” Meek said. “Some more than others. They definitely progressed. It would be interesting to see what would have happened had the schedule been flipped, if the second half of the season was at the start of the season. If that was the case, I think you would have seen more improvement. These kids were thrown into the fire.”

Shadyside defeated Toronto, 48-14, in Week 1 down at Fleming Field.

After the loss, the Red Knights regrouped and won their next four games to improve to 4-1. In those games, Toronto defeated Bridgeport (60-22), Edison (34-13), Southern Local (44-41) and Leetonia (40-7).

“In Weeks 2, 3, 4 and 5, there was a lot of excitement,” Meek said. “That is what you like to see. We had positive scores. We had success. The Southern Local game was exciting. As a coach, it is so rewarding to be around and see that happen. It is great to see them when they are excited, but it is tough to see them when they are disappointed.”

After the win against the Bears, the wheels came off for the Red Knights as they lost their last five games against Eastern Ohio Athletic Conference opponents. Toronto ended with losses to Columbiana (42-7), Lisbon (48-12), East Palestine (64-20), United (42-12) and Wellsville.

“This is a football league,” Meek said. “Football is big in the area south of Youngstown. One thing that hurt us is we are one of the smaller schools in the league. East Palestine is almost in Division V. United is bigger than us. It is a good league, and we knew that going into it. We just have to get better. We are going to be able to compete in the other sports. We are going to do a real good job. This is our first year in the league.”

Six of the teams Toronto played this season finished at .500 or better, five of which had winning records and four of them — Shadyside, Columbiana, Lisbon and East Palestine — made the playoffs. Toronto ended up finishing in ninth place in the Ohio Division VII, Region 25 rankings.

During the season, Toronto did a good job of taking care of the ball, and the Red Knights did not hurt themselves too often with penalties.

“For a young team, that is impressive,” Meek said. “We also had very few penatlies. We threw the ball very well. We completed 60 percent of our passes. We ran the ball well at times. We did a nice job on special teams.”

The year may not have ended the way Toronto wanted it to, but Meek is proud of his kids for all that they did.

“This year was a lesson,” Meek said. “We learned a lot not only about football but also about life. We want our kids to be good people. That is the most important thing.

“People don’t see all of the hours we spend with these kids. We have great kids to work with. Fans go to the games and they see the scoreboard, but they don’t see all of the hours we work with them. They don’t see all of the work they put in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. They show up every day at practice. They did everything we asked them to do. They are a good group of young men. They represented Toronto High School very well, and I am very proud of them for that.”