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Before the season even started Walnut Hills was dealt a crippling blow by the OHSAA. The Eagles were to be bumped up to Division I and placed in Region 4. They would be the smallest Division I school (male enrollment wise) in the state. This team was all set to make noise in Division II with their sights on the playoffs in Region 8.
Head coach George Kontsis and his staff took the lemons and made lemonade and the Blue and Gold persevered through the journey.
“We set three goals before the season - to win the FAVC Cardinal, finish in the Enquirer Poll Division I Top 10, and make the playoffs. We accomplished two of the three,” Kontsis proudly stated.
His Eagles finished seventh in the final Enquirer Division I Poll and made the school’s first trip to the playoffs.
When it was all said and done the fruits of their efforts garnered one of the most successful campaigns in school history. Walnut Hills took advantage of a schedule littered with Division II opponents and perennial Region 4 powers that beat up on each other so much that it paved the way to the program’s first ever post-season appearance. It capped a remarkable turnaround from a school that was just five year removed from a 36-game losing streak before Kontsis got the Eagles headed in the right direction.
Let’s take a game-by-game look at Walnut Hills’ 2011 campaign:
GAME #1 – WALNUT HILLS 23, WYOMING 22: Playing in the Skyline Crosstown Showdown at Colerain High School to kickoff the season, Walnut Hills scored the go-ahead touchdown on a short plunge by Kamree Maull with less than two minutes left in the contest to seal a 23-22 victory over Wyoming. Maull finished with a game and career-high 98 yards rushing. It was a big day for the senior, who missed his junior campaign because of injury. The Eagles were down 14-3 in the second quarter when Kenny Davis jump started their engine with an 85-yard kickoff return for a score. It was the senior’s fifth career kickoff return for a touchdown. Classmate Jason Stargel collected 2.5 sacks as Walnut Hills held the Cowboys to 14 yards rushing on 23 carries for the game.
GAME #2 – WALNUT HILLS 36, WESTERN HILLS 12: Walnut Hills avenged last season’s defeat to Western Hills as Davis ran for 208 yard and a pair of touchdowns. He would finish the game with 296 all-purpose yards. Maull chipped in with 70 more yards on the ground and two touchdowns. The game was dominated up front on both sides of the ball by Walnut Hills. The defense picked up 5.0 sacks on the night as Stargel, Isaiah Johnson and Kevin Dewalt each registered 1.5 quarterback takedowns for the victors. The Eagles held the Mustangs to 39 yards rushing on 27 carries for the game.
GAME #3 – WALNUT HILLS 43, HUGHES CENTER 12: The defense set the tone early as Walnut Hills jumped out to 22-0 first-quarter lead on their way to a 43-12 win over Hughes Center. Stargel recorded a safety and James “Ironhead” Smith returned an interception 32 yards before the Big Red ever knew what hit them. Stargel finished with another 1.5 sacks giving him 5.5 in the first three tilts. Davis had another big day running for 205 yards and three touchdowns. Maull ran for his fourth touchdown of the season. Tight end Jalen Harris caught his first touchdown pass of his career. The Eagles held Hughes Center to 20 yards rushing on 25 attempts for the game.
GAME #4 – WALNUT HILLS 47, NORWOOD 6: For the third straight contest Davis topped the 200-yard mark rushing as Walnut Hills handled a smaller Norwood squad, 47-6. Davis finished with 203 yards on the ground, five total touchdowns in the game’s first 30 minutes, including a fantastic 62-yard punt return to the house. In four games the senior has 625 yards rushing, 884 all-purpose yards and 11 total touchdowns. Sophomore receiver Kendal Fitzgerald caught his first touchdown pass of the year for the winners. Stargel had 2.0 more sacks as he continues to give opposing offensive lines fits.
GAME #5 – WALNUT HILLS 31, WINTON WOODS 28: It was the biggest road win as far backs as anyone can remember as Walnut Hills marched into Charlie Fredrick Stadium and took down Winton Woods, 31-28. The affair featured seven lead changes with the last coming with 5:17 left in regulation. Quarterback Jake Desch hooked up with Davis on their second touchdown pass to keep the Eagles unbeaten at the midway point of the season. Davis was sensational once more with 149 yards rushing, two scores on the ground to go along with four receptions for 111 yards. Desch had a career-best 178 yards passing and the two scoring tosses. It was the junior third straight game without an interception. You can chalk this victory up to sheer will and determination.
GAME #6 – WALNUT HILLS 22, WILMINGTON 7: There was no letdown after the big win over Winton Woods as Walnut Hills returned home to Marx Stadium and took care of Wilmington and remained undefeated. The Eagles’ defense held the Canes to 101 yards of total offense and came up with four takeaways. Ironhead Smith picked off his third pass of the season for the winners. Desch ran and threw for a score. Davis racked up 151 yards on the ground and his 12th rushing touchdown of the year.
GAME #7 – KINGS 23, WALNUT HILLS 0: In a Week 7 battle of unbeatens Kings held off Walnut Hills and take sole command of first place in the FAVC Cardinal. Davis was carried off the field in the first quarter as he re-aggravated an ankle injury and the Eagles’ offense sputtered the rest of the night against a solid Knights’ defense. He finished with a team-high six yards on just one carry. Walnut Hills was held to -1 yard on 13 attempts. To compound matters Kings picked off Desch five times. Despite the loss the Eagles still remained very much in the hunt for a playoff spot in Region 4.
GAME #8 – TURPIN 17, WALNUT HILLS 14: Turpin used two second-quarter touchdowns and three fourth-quarter stops to sneak out of Marx Stadium with a road win on Walnut Hills. The Eagles outgained the Spartans 232 to 203, 140 of those yards came on from Davis on the ground. He would cross the goal line twice in defeat. This is one of those games that Walnut Hills could have finished on top of, but failure to execute an untimely was their down fall.
GAME #9 – WALNUT HILLS 24, WEST CARROLTON 0: The Walnut Hills’ defense returned to their early-season form as they posted their first shutout of the year in a 24-0 win over West Carrollton. The Eagles held their foe to 1-of-10 on third-down conversions, registered 5.0 sacks and recovered three Pirates’ fumbles. Junior D’Avon Adkins had a career-high 2.5 sacks for the victors. Davis ran for 160 yards and two second half touchdowns.
GAME #10 – WALNUT HILLS 28, LITTLE MIAMI 6: Where there’s a will there’s a way and the Walnut Hills seniors were determined to go out in a big way or make the postseason in a gigantic splash. Davis ran for 285 yards and all four of the team’s touchdowns. He had a 55 and 85-yard score where he made a statement that this was his game and he was not going to be denied. On defense his classmates Stargel and Maull each had two sacks. “Ironhead” Smith racked 85 yards with his team-high fourth touchdown of the season. Now it is on to the playoffs for the first time in school history. The task would not be easy as they drew the #7 seed and a trip to Colerain in Week 11.
GAME #11 – COLERAIN 60, WALNUT HILLS 6: The season ended where it began for Walnut Hills. Unfortunately, the results weren’t as joyous as Week 1 when they beat Wyoming at Colerain’s Cardinal Stadium. The Eagles were overmatched in their post-season debut as they fell to Colerain, 60-6. The Cardinals passed, ran and played defense at an almost flawless level all evening. They built a 50-0 lead less than seven minutes into the third quarter. The lone bright spot for Walnut Hills came on 85-yard scoring pass from Desch to Carlitos Anderson with six minutes left in the contest. Anderson had a career-high five receptions and 121 receiving yards in his final game as an Eagle.
MILESTONES AND MORE
--Walnut Hills tied the school record with eight wins. The 1956 Eagles went 8-2. The school made their first-ever playoff appearance.
--In four years Kontsis is now 20-21 as head coach at Walnut Hills. They have not had a losing season since 2008 after going 3-47 the five seasons prior.
--The 6-foot-4, 220 pound Stargel registered, 10.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and recorded a safety. His efforts earned him Division I, Second-Team All-Southwest District and FAVC Cardinal Co-Athlete of the Year honors. Stargel has four offers – Akron, Indiana State, UT-Martin and Furman.
-- Davis capped off a great ride with 1,575 yards rushing, 20 rushing touchdowns, 9 receptions for 150 yards, two scoring receptions, 2,084 all-purpose yards and 24 total touchdowns. That earned him Division I, Special Mention All-Ohio, First Team All-Southwest District and FAVC Cardinal Co-Athlete of the year honors. It was his second straight 1,000 yards season on the ground. He ends his brilliant career ends with 4,721 all-purpose yards, 3,021 yards rushing, 1,431 total return yards, 44 total touchdowns and four interceptions on defense.
-- “Ironhead” Smith, and DeWalt join Stargel and Davis as First Team All-FAVC Cardinal members. Smith led the team with four interceptions for 167 return yards and a pick-six. DeWalt, a junior recorded 5.0 sacks in nine games.
-- Anderson, Johnson, Nilijiah Ballew, Chris Brown, Jared Erkins and Veashawn Springs were voted to the All-FAVC Cardinal Second-Team.
--Kicker Adam Brown connected on 30/34 extra points and 6/7 field goals for 48 points.
Walnut Hills is nominated for our TristateFootball.com Cincinnati Team of the Year. The winning team and all other nominee’s will be recognized at our Year in Review Show at Tap House Grill on Wednesday, January 18th, 2012…COMPLETE DETAILS
Greg is a co-founder of TSF and is now entering his ninth season as a Featured Analyst for the website. The Xavier University grad also serves as the Content Manager for the website and is widely considered one of the top high school football experts in the region. If you are interested in covering your team, please CONTACT US.