After being eliminated from postseason contention following a 44-19 loss at West Jefferson in week nine, the Whitehall-Yearling High School football team set its focus on another goal entering its season finale Nov. 1 against visiting Madison Plains.
At 4-5, coach Jake Kuhner stressed to his team the importance of finishing .500 and also helping the 14 seniors end their prep football careers with a win.
The Rams responded by defeating the Golden Eagles 54-14.
Whitehall finished 5-5 overall and 3-3 in the MSL-Ohio Division. Last season, the Rams were 3-7 overall and 2-5 in the league.
"Even going into the game we knew we had four wins, we still improved over last season," senior quarterback Cody Koons said. "Our goal was to win the division and make the playoffs, but it didn't happen. The best we could do was 5-5 and we had a good, fun, hard week of practice. We knew we still had a football game to play, so we took care of business during practice and took care of business on Friday."
Madison Plains finished 3-7 overall and 1-5 in the league.
The Rams tied Cambridge for 18th in the final Division III, Region 9 computer ratings behind No. 1 Athens. The top eight teams qualified for the playoffs, which begin Friday, Nov. 8.
Whitehall took control early against Madison Plains, outscoring the Golden Eagles 14-0 in the first quarter.
Defensive back/wide receiver Demetrius Ridgeway opened the scoring with a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown, and he followed that with a 25-yard touchdown reception from Koons later in the first.
Koons had touchdown runs of 11 and 70 yards in the second quarter as Whitehall led 34-0 at halftime. He added a 7-yard touchdown pass to Ridgeway and a 30-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Senior running back Shaquille Alexander rushed for 201 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
"It was a great night, it was surreal," Alexander said. "All the fans, all the team, everybody was just energized."
Koons rushed for 224 yards and completed four of eight passes for 74 yards.
"Being a hometown kid from Whitehall, it was a nice way to end my career in front of our home fans and with such a big win, so it felt really good," Koons said. "It was emotional. You see all four years coming to an end. It was fun. It was a really neat experience and I wouldn't trade it for anything."
Running back/wide receiver B.J. Upchurch had four carries for 64 yards and a touchdown and four receptions for 63 yards.
The Rams rushed for 488 yards.
"The kids played great," Kuhner said. "We got a lot of younger guys in the whole fourth quarter pretty much."
Kuhner and his players pointed to overtime losses to Bloom-Carroll (52-51 in three overtimes Sept. 6) and Bexley (35-34 in two overtimes Sept. 27) and a 42-40 loss to Columbus Academy on Oct. 4 as the main reasons why the team didn't qualify for the playoffs.
"It was four points that we lost by in overtime twice and then we lost in regulation, that's what got us," Alexander said. "I feel like we can play with anybody in the state. We just couldn't finish those three games and that would have meant the playoffs."
Whitehall finished fourth in the league behind West Jefferson (6-0), Bexley (4-2) and Academy (4-2) and ahead of Grandview (2-4), Madison Plains (1-5) and London (1-5).
West Jefferson (Division V, Region 18) and Bexley (Division IV, Region 13) qualified for the playoffs.
Worthington Christian will join the league next season.
Hailu leads boys cross country team
Senior Nahom Hailu fell short of earning a return trip to the regional boys cross country meet, finishing 32nd (17 minutes, 42.86 seconds) in the Division I, district 1 race Oct. 19 at Watkins Memorial.
The top five teams and top 20 individuals advanced to regional Oct. 26 at Pickerington North.
Last season, Hailu was 23rd (17:20.02) of 131 runners in the Division II regional meet.
The Rams competed in Division I for the first time this fall, and the boys team finished 13th (360) of 14 teams at district behind champion Hilliard Davidson (29).
Other runners for the Rams at district were freshmen Angosom Weldu (81st, 21:04.81), Tamagne Shiferaw (82nd, 21:11.73), Natneal Dessa (86th, 21:31.85) and Kevin Diaz (89th, 22:19.61) and senior Anthony Spaulding (91st, 22:34.38).
The Rams finished fourth (102) in the MSL-Ohio meet Oct. 12 at London Country Club, behind Bexley (38), Columbus Academy (58) and Grandview (66) and ahead of Worthington Christian (117) and London (140).
Hailu was fourth (17:29) of 39 runners.
Other highlights for Hailu this season were winning the Whitehall Invitational in 18:46 on Aug. 24, the Northland Invitational in 17:12 on Sept. 7 and the Ray Russell Invitational in 18:01 on Oct. 5 at Jonathan Alder.
"It was a good season," Hailu said. "I'm happy with what I did. I wish I could have pushed more, but it didn't happen."
Sophomore Ana Abduljelil also should return for the Rams next season.
"I was really happy with the boys team," coach Robert Taylor said. "I knew we had a pretty young squad. The last few weeks we really grew a lot and pulled together to wrap it up. It was a nice down-the-stretch feeling."
The girls team did not have enough runners for a team score in the district 1 meet, as Davidson was first (48) of 11 teams that scored.
Senior Katheryne Ortiz was 75th (25:29.25) for the Rams, followed by senior Samantha Litostansky (77th, 26:00.62), sophomore Claudia Fuentes (79th, 27:12.93) and junior Ariana Oldham (82nd, 30:50.91).
Whitehall also did not have enough runners for a team score in the league meet, as Ortiz finished 29th (29:29). Academy was first (45), followed by Bexley (48), Grandview (57), London (85) and Worthington Christian (136).