Zack Denney knew the experience was unlike any other he'd seen on the football field.

Ethan Han marked the season as unforgettable.

Even as Peninsula's 2018 season ended Nov. 23 in a heartbreaking 49-21 loss to Western High in the CIF Southern Section Division 11 championship game, the Panthers still accomplished something not done since 1997.

"We made it farther than any other Peninsula team in 21 years—that's something to be proud of," Denney said. "It was fun, and although it’s not how we wanted it to go, I thoroughly enjoyed it."

Denney and Han were two of 16 seniors to suit up for Peninsula this year, and saw the program go from shut down in 2015 to a title game three years later.

"We played well and developed more as the year went on," Han said. "Being able to make playoffs was huge, and this season meant the world to me. It's something I'll never forget."

Coach Dave Young saw the Panthers head into the CIF-SS Division 11 playoffs on an emotional high, knowing how uncertain making the playoffs were in the first place.

"After the regular season ended, we were all on an emotional high because of the opportunity we earned," Young said. "But earning a berth into the finals and practicing on Thanksgiving provided the biggest emotional boost by far."

Peninsula lost starting quarterback Ethan Gretzinger to an ankle injury during the Panthers 58-13 quarterfinal romp over Pomona, but Jack Haworth stepped in admirably.

"Jack was the biggest surprise this season, replacing Ethan," Young said. "He came in and won two big games for us. We were very fortunate to make another quarterback that was ready to go like Jack."

After losing Han to a knee injury during spring practice, Mason O' Connor put his talents on display during the seasons first five games. O'Connor ran for 925 yards and 8 TDs across 13 games, while Han racked up 1,193 yards and 8 TDs over the course of eight games.

"(Han's performances) didn't shock me, but after missing the first five games, he really came into his own in the playoffs by dominating on both sides of the ball," Young said. "(O'Connor) continued to contribute running the ball successfully (after Han's return)."

In the title game, Young saw Western come in completely prepared for Peninsula that fateful Friday night.

"Western is very well-coached and were well-prepared for us," Young said. "We knew that their speed could give us problems, but our main problems came from special teams and penalties."

Young pinpointed five penalties that he called game-changers, but he knew the Panthers had to come out and focus.

"Football is tough because you only get one shot against the team you're playing," Young said. "You have to make it count every Friday."

Peninsula will bask in the afterglow of a successful season that saw the program reel off nine wins and earn third place in the rough Bay League before its first playoff berth in ten years.

But the coaching staff will be back to work quickly, especially losing 4 of its 5 offensive lineman, Gretzinger, Han, O'Connor and three receivers. On the defensive side of the ball, Peninsula loses only four starters.

"Offensively, we will have lots of new faces that will get an opportunity to play a lot of football," Young said. "Defensively, we have some depth coming back that got quality experience."

Young will not lower his expectations for 2019, regardless of the offensive experience Peninsula graduated.

"We still have high expectations for next year, especially since we were successful this year," Young said. "We know we still have a lot of work to do to be as good as we want to be, and this offseason will be as important as any for us to get bigger and stronger."

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