Although the Whitehall-Yearling High School football team has been eliminated from postseason contention, coach Jake Kuhner wants the Rams to finish strong Friday, Nov. 1, against visiting Madison Plains.
Whitehall's hopes for a playoff berth in Division III, Region 9 were dashed by close losses to Bloom-Carroll (52-51 in three overtimes Sept. 6), Bexley (35-34 in two overtimes Sept. 27) and Columbus Academy (42-40 on Oct. 4).
"We have to get ready for the last week and end with a win," Kuhner said. "That's the biggest thing right now. We'll end up being .500. We definitely threw away a season where we could have been 8-2 (or) 7-3."
The Rams had a two-game winning streak end with a 44-19 loss Oct. 25 at West Jefferson. Whitehall fell to 4-5 overall and 2-3 in the MSL-Ohio Division.
West Jefferson improved to 8-1 overall and clinched at least a share of the league title at 5-0. The Roughriders lead Academy by one game and can clinch the title outright with a win Friday, Nov. 1, against London.
Madison Plains dropped to 3-6 and 1-4 with a 41-12 loss Oct. 25 at Grandview. Wide receiver Eli Williams had three catches for 87 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown from quarterback Jake Vallery, and running back Travis Chaffin added a 2-yard scoring run.
Jason Hunt is in his first season coaching Madison Plains.
"We have to go in and play tough," Kuhner said. "If we go in and play Madison Plains like we played West Jeff, it's going to be a long night for us again. Madison Plains is a team that can creep up on you. You can't take them lightly. You can never take an opponent lightly. They will run the ball and they'll spread you out a little bit. Athletically, our kids just have to do what we do."
Whitehall will recognize its 14 seniors before the game, including right tackle Nick Wright.
"We just want to win this game, go out with a good note and make us remember something good," he said.
Against West Jefferson, the Rams fell behind 31-6 at halftime. Quarterback Logan Stepp had three touchdown passes, including two to wide receiver Nick Mendenhall, to lead the Roughriders.
"West Jefferson has a tough quarterback. It's a real disciplined team, but we faltered in a lot of areas," Kuhner said. "We didn't make the big plays that we should have and we gave up a lot of big plays on defense by blown coverages and blown assignments."
Whitehall quarterback Cody Koons completed five of nine passes for 88 yards with touchdowns of 14 yards to Malik Tyus and 58 yards to Demetrius Ridgeway. Koons also rushed for 43 yards on 24 carries, including a 15-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
For the season, Koons has completed 85 of 153 passes for 1,309 yards with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions and rushed for 798 yards and eight touchdowns on 164 carries.
Running back Shaquille Alexander, who rushed for 94 yards on 14 carries against West Jefferson, has 999 yards and 14 touchdowns on 199 carries for the season.
Wide receiver/running back B.J. Upchurch has 38 receptions for 590 yards and seven touchdowns.
Volleyball team endured obstacles
The girls volleyball team finished 5-19 overall and 0-14 in the MSL-Ohio.
Whitehall won its first-round match in the Division II district tournament, defeating 20th-seeded Brookhaven 25-16, 25-8, 25-16 on Oct. 15 at home, but the 17th-seeded Rams lost at top-seeded Hartley 25-6, 25-13, 25-12 in the second round Oct. 19.
After playing its home matches at Old Rosemore Middle School last season because of a renovation project, the Rams were looking forward to returning to the high school this season.
That move, however, was delayed until late September because the project wasn't completed until after the school year began.
"This season was a tough season of overcoming many obstacles, starting with being kicked out of gyms and having to practice at other schools and not getting to play in the new gym until halfway through the season," coach Danielle Smith said.
"It was great to get to play in the new gym and not have to share. Our middle school, Rosemore, was great about letting us practice and play games over there. They made the last year and a half much easier on us."
Whitehall loses four seniors, including setter and outside hitter Tierra Copley, who was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. She finished with 234 assists, 229 digs, 145 kills and 74 aces.
Utility players Andrea Seberig and Rebekah Young and setter Kayla Williams were the other seniors.
Williams had 242 digs, 201 assists, 105 kills, 35 aces and 24 blocks. Seberig had 476 digs and 29 aces, and Young had 147 digs.
"The seniors will be hard to replace," Smith said. "Many of them played varsity for two (or) three years and (Williams) even played four years, so the returning players will have some big shoes to fill."
Players eligible to return next season are juniors Sammy Day (utility player), Tyra James (middle hitter) and Madison Schmidt (libero) and sophomores Bridget Gallagher (utility player), Mykela Hollins-head (middle hitter/setter) and Austi Spaulding (middle hitter).
Day had 79 kills and 68 digs, James had 61 kills and 42 blocks, Hollinshead had 88 kills, Schmidt had 51 digs and Spaulding had 39 blocks.
The Rams finished eighth in the league behind West Jefferson (14-0), London (11-3), Worthington Christian (9-5), Columbus Academy (8-6), Bexley (6-8), Grandview (5-9) and Madison Plains (3-11).
"The girls never gave up this season," Smith said. "They worked hard and were very competitive this season. We had some tough losses. I look for us to continue to work hard during the offseason and turn those close losses into wins next year."