Whitehall defeats Salem in season opener

B y Bill Toscano

 

The voice of assistant coach Neil Hughes boomed across the field asWhitehall’s players stood minutes away from the second half of their season opener againstSalem.

“You guys are not fired up,” Hughes let the players – and everyone else there – know. “If you play like that, we’re going to come out of here 0-1.”

The Railroaders didn’t simply hear him, they listened. With the defensive line rebounding from a sub-par first half,Whitehallused its conditioning and depth to grind out a 20-0 victory.

Junior Josh Hoagland, who had one of the touchdowns, also made it clear the lesson was learned going into this week’s home opener againstLake George.

“If we walk onto the field againstLake Georgewith this kind of intensity, we’ll be OK, said Hoagland, who carried for 23 times for 173 yards and a touchdown. “We have to be ready.”

Saturday’s 1 p.m. game againstLake Georgewill go a long way toward determining whether the Railroaders are one of the four Class D teams to advance to the Section II semifinals in head coach Justin Culligan’s first season.

Yes, that’s a long way down the road, but that game, and the following week’s matchup with Warrensburg are important chances to put away wins before even more challenging games against Rensselaer and Cambridge.

The Warriors, down from Class C, used a second-half surge to beat Saratoga Catholic, 40-12. Saratoga Catholic was unable to field a team last year because of a lack of players.

Willy Blunt had three touchdowns forLake Georgeand also threw for a touchdown. He rushed for 102 yards and was 5-for-11 for 77 yards. Whitehall’s defensive line will need to play like it did in the second half against Salem to keep pressure on him and not allow him to break any runs. One of Blunt’s touchdowns was an 87-yard kickoff return, but special-teams’ defense was a strength for the Railroaders in the opener, especially on punts.

But what really turned the game around forWhitehallwas its conditioning, something Culligan credited to assistant coach Dick Gould.

“You guys should be thanking Coach Gould for this one,” Culligan said to the players after the game. “I know you complain about the conditioning, but that made the difference today.”

Whitehall started strong in the third quarter and took an 8-0 lead on a one-yard run by Hoagland, followed by a conversion run by Codie Bascue. In the fourth quarter, Bascue scored on a 10-yard run, and later in the period freshman quarterback Justin Hoagland put together a nifty 30-yard touchdown run. Bascue ran 15 times for 72 yards.

“I was nervous,” the younger Hoagland said of starting as a freshman. “But the guys told me not to be intimidated and just go out and do my job,” he said. “That touchdown was fun. I needed the blocking, and I got it.”

Hoagland and senior Brett Christian had been battling for the starting position, but Christian was not available Saturday on a coach’s decision. He will be back againstLake Georgeand will definitely help in the defensive backfield. He is also an end, and will be available at quarterback if needed. The Railroaders did not really need to pass and while they did not complete one, they attempted only three. The offensive line was solid, helping the Railroader backs pile up 298 yards.

Senior two-way lineman Zach Diekel was a key for the Railroaders, as was sophomore Brandon Steves, a sophomore.

“Brandonwas in on every play, and you will see that all year,” Culligan said. “He was tough out there. So was junior John Diekel, playing for the first time since eighth grade. “He hadn’t played in two years, and he was out there hitting on every play,” Culligan said. The Diekels, who are cousins, and Steves, are top-notch wrestlers under assistant football coach Bob Diekel.

Senior Blake Benjamin, who is listed at 310 pounds, played well, as did 275-pounder Troy Nichols. Carl Rehms, a 150-pound linebacker, was also an important part of the defense.

Diekel said he and the other linemen did not play the way they wanted to in the first half, “but we got pumped up and fired up in the second half.”

Sophomore lineman Brandon Donaldson also played a strong game forWhitehall, as did senior Evan McLaughlin, who had eight tackles, and Ryan Putorti, a freshman who did not start, but came in and played well. “He had no expectation of playing at all, and he came in and he made three tackles,” Culligan said of Putorti. “We’ve got a large group of freshmen and our upper class groups are not that big, so we expected to see a lot of the freshmen.”

The Railroaders held two Generals’ quarterbacks to 3-for-8 passing for only 24 yards. Despite a couple of longSalemdrives,Whitehallheld the Generals to 68 total yards.

“We ran out of gas,” said Salem coach Pat Niles who had fewer reserves than the Railroaders and saw senior two-way starter Nick Burch knocked out of the game on a hit on the first play by Josh Hoaglund. “We had one good drive, and a penalty killed us,”Nilessaid.

Culligan, who took over from long-time head coach John Millett, was happy with his team’s effort, especially in the second half.

“Coach Hughes let them know what they had to do,” he said. “And they did it.”

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