O n a day when Whitehall was held to its lowest offensive output of the season, it was fitting that the final outcome of Saturday’s annual Homecoming game was determined by mere inches.
With winds approaching30 mphand rain showers making Ambrose Gilligan Field a mud pit, Whitehall’s offense was unable to gain any traction, managing only 198 total yards as the Railroaders fell to Rensselaer,8-0, in a double overtime thriller.
Seth Butler scored on a three-yard run in the second overtime period and punched in the two point conversion several seconds later to give Rensselaer a 8-0 lead. Whitehall managed to record a first down on the following possession but was unable to push the ball across the ball line.
“The conditions were awful; we couldn’t get Josh (Hoagland) going because he couldn’t make any cuts. But that being said it was awful for both teams,” head coach Justin Culligan said. “Both teams played very well defensively. I thought our defense was phenomenal. We thought they were going to come in and pass the ball, but the conditions obviously changed that.”
Hoagland was held to 107 yards on 28 carries, his lowest output of the season, and Codie Bascue rushed for 32 yards on eight carries.
Zach Diekel was all over the field for the Railroaders, recording 11 tackles, included two for a loss. Blake Benjamin had his best game of the season making seven tackles and Wes Porter and Brandon Steves also had nice games for Whitehall.
Brett Christian also had a very nice game punting the ball in some very challenging conditions.
As much of an impact as the conditions had the teams Saturday, it was ultimately missed opportunities that doomed the Railroaders.
Whitehall had a chance to take at least a 6-0 lead into halftime but were unable to capitalize on the opportunity as the Rams stopped Hoagland inside the one yard line and forced a turnover on downs with less than 30 seconds left in the half.
“This was a game of inches. We had a half-dozen opportunities to punch it in, but we couldn’t get it in,” said Culligan.
The loss drops Whitehall to 3-2 on the season, but the Railroaders remain in position for a Sectional birth on the virtue of Lake George’s loss to Warrensburg on Friday night.
Both teams are tied for the fourth and final playoff spot at 3-2 but Whitehall owns the tiebreaker because of their victory earlier this season against the Warriors.
Cambridge remains unbeaten at 5-0 with Rensselaer and Fort Edward tied at 4-1. Unfortunately if those positions remain unchanged-and it will be difficult to pass Fort Edward and Rensselaer since they are a game ahead of Whitehall and own the head-to-head tiebreaker, so Whitehall faces the unenviable task of facing Cambridge in the first round of Section II play.
The Railroaders will look to turn things around this weekend when they host Catholic Central (2-3) at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Catholic Central has been trounced by the leagues’ top three teams — Cambridge, Rensselaer, and Fort Edward — and has handily beaten two of the league’s weaker teams — Saratoga Catholic and Bishop Gibbons.
Still, the Crusaders should present an interesting test for Whitehall. The team has several talented athletes and passes the ball more than Whitehall has seen this year.
The Railroaders will hope to contain that passing game by relying on a 5-2 Cover two defense. Culligan said the team implemented the defensive scheme last week expecting Rensselaer to pass the ball, and although conditions altered the Rams offense, he was happy with the results.
He said the scheme allows the safeties to sit back in coverage and see the ball coming instead of the man-to-man they had used earlier in the season where Whitehall’s defensive backs would jam the receivers at the line and trail them downfield with their back to the quarterback.
Despite two very close losses — both games could have gone the other way and hinged on one or two plays — Culligan expects his team to be ready.
“We responded well this week and I think we’ll respond next week,” Culligan said, adding that it’s conceivably the last home game for the team’s seniors.
From the outset of Saturday’s game it appeared obvious that both teams were going to have a tough time scoring points.
Several inches of mud from hash mark to hash mark made footing poor to say the least and neither team was effective at getting the ball to the outside where there was a least a semblance of solid footing.
The team exchanged punts and forced several turnovers on downs throughout the first half.
Toward the end of the first half, Whitehall was forced to punt from about midfield and Christian unleashed a booming punt into the end zones for a touchback, but a block in the back put the ball at the 10 yard line.
Several plays later, Dillon Griffin recovered a fumble at the 33 yard line giving Whitehall great field position with only a few moments remaining in the second quarter.
On the next play, Christian made a diving catch to set up the Railroaders with first and goal at the nine yard line.
Three plays later, Whitehall faced a fourth down from the one yard line, but Hoagland was stuffed inches shorts of a touchdown and Rensselaer took over on downs to preserve the 0-0 tie.
The second half was similar to the first half with both team matching each blow for blow defensively.
Whitehall had a chance to score in halfway through the fourth quarter when Rensselaer’s snap flew over the punters head allowing Whitehall to take over at the 10 yard line. Several plays later, facing fourth down, Whitehall sent Zach Diekel out to try the team’s first field goal of the season but the 34 yard attempt was no good.
The game ended at 0-0 and neither team could do anything in the first overtime period. Rensselaer received the ball first in the second overtime period and Butler plunged in for the winning score.