Familiar opponent in season opener

The Whitehall football team will open its season against a familiar opponent, the Rensselaer Rams, tomorrow night at Ambrose Gilligan Field.

The teams, each of whom has qualified for Sectionals the past two years, have played each other three times in the last two years. Rensselaer has won all three games.

“This game will be a big measuring stick for us,” head coach Justin Culligan said.

The Railroaders are looking to improve on last year’s 5-4 record. The Railroader’s offense is unlikely to take anyone by surprise. The attack will be led by Josh Hoagland, a second-team all-state selection who amassed 1,316 rushing yards last season.

Fellow senior and fullback Paxton DeLorme will provide some speed at the fullback position and sophomore Justin Hoagland will have a pair of senior receivers to deliver the ball to.

But the blocking up front will ultimately determine Whitehall’s success Friday night and beyond. Brandon Donaldson and Brandon Steves are the only returning linemen from a season ago and the rest of the line lacks experience. The team has tried several players at the position and may start two freshmen.

Defensively the team will be led by Steves and John Diekel at linebacker. Like offense, the line remains a question mark.

The Rams, who play in the Adirondack League South Division, went 8-2 last year and qualified for the Section II Class D championship game for the fourth consecutive season, where they lost to eventual state semifinalist Cambridge, 65-30.

Like the Railroaders, the Rams return several talented skill position players. Steven Harwood is expected to be one of the league’s better quarterbacks and bruising running back Seth Butler returns after a solid 2011. Linebacker Tyler Stasack will lead the defense.

If past games between the teams are any indication, expect a close, physical game. Rensselaer defeated Whitehall last season 8-0 in double overtime.

The Railroaders held Rensselaer to 136 yards and forced three turnovers in last year’s game. But playing on a sloppy, slick field, the Railroaders were unable to capitalize on a pair of possessions inside the 10-yard line late in the first half and Butler plunged into the end zone from three yards in what proved to be the winning score.

The Rams also defeated Whitehall 18-6 during the 2010 regular season and again 33-22 in the postseason.

“There’s no secrets between Rensselaer and us,” offensive coordinator Jason Hoagland said.

Kickoff for tomorrow’s game is at 7 p.m.

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