Head coach Justin Culligan thought there would be moments this season when Whitehall’s football team exceeded expectations and moments when it failed to play the way it was capable of. On Friday, the Railroaders did both.
Justin Hoagland scored four touchdowns and Whitehall racked up more than 350 yards on the ground as the team overcame a sluggish first half to defeat Hoosic Valley 35-7 in it season opener.
“It was a tale of two halves,” said Culligan. “They (Hoosic Valley) came out with an us-against-the-world-mentality. They were a lot better than they were last year and a lot more physical, which is something we didn’t expect.
“But our conditioning really paid off. We condition a lot and that made the difference. In the second half, their linemen had their hands on their knees; they were dying. We kept running the right at them and it wore them down,” Culligan said.
After a first half marked by inopportune penalties and costly turnovers, Whitehall scored on touchdown runs of 17 and 74 yards in the second half and Hoagland eluded several would-be tacklers on a dazzling 60-yard kick return.
“We came out in the second half and did what we needed to do,” said senior linebacker Brandon Steves, who made plays all over the field. “We were a much more physical team in the second half.”
Hoosic Valley head coach Chris Lutgens said his team tried to spread out Whitehall and stretch the field vertically.
“We were able to pass the ball early, but when they went to the press it gave us problems,” Lutgens. “That’s a good team. They’re a program building their history and we’re still writing ours.”
The Railroaders’ play in the second half was in stark contrast to the way the team played in the first half.
Whitehall sputtered on its first three offensive drives, included a botched center-quarterback exchange that Hoosic Valley recovered at its 11-yard line.
After forcing a punt, the Railroaders took over at midfield and on the first play of the drive, Hoagland hit Tyler Thomas down the left sideline for a 49-yard touchdown and a 6-0 lead.
Hoosic Valley answered right back, however, as Anthony Wasiyo punctuated an eight play, 60-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown. A successful point-after-attempt gave the Indians a 7-6 lead.
On the ensuing drive, Whitehall took over at its own 33-yard line and Hoagland scored the first of his two rushing touchdowns on an 18-yard scamper up the opposing sideline. He made it 14-7 with a successful two-point conversion.
The Railroaders had a chance to add to the score, but Colin Claus intercepted a pass in the end zone with 17 seconds remaining before the half.
The missed opportunities that plagued Whitehall in the first half appeared as if they may repeat themselves after a questionable blocking penalty wiped out an 80-yard punt return by Hoagland. But the Railroaders regained their composure and Brian McLaughlin scored on a 17-yard touchdown with five minutes left in the third quarter.
Less than a minute later, Hoagland scampered 74 yards to put Whitehall ahead 26-7.
The Railroaders added a safety late in the third quarter and Hoagland returned the ensuing kick 60 yards for a 35-7 lead.
As a team, Whitehall compiled 423 yards of total offense, including 199 rushing yards from freshman Daryl Hillman in his varsity debut.
Whitehall now travels to face Canajoharie tomorrow night.
“That trip worries me, especially with a young team. They have a great program and they play to their strengths. It’s going to be tough,” Culligan said.
Canajoharie defeated Warrensburg 20-14 in overtime last week.
The Cougars employ a spread offense with many plays run out of the shotgun. Culligan said they have an experienced offensive line and two big receivers.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m.