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Football

Rams lament a few missed opportunities

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

The Whitehall-Yearling High School football team knows a good season could have been even better.

The Rams won three of their final four games to finish 5-5 overall and 3-3 in the MSL-Ohio Division.

However, Whitehall fell short of its postseason goal, as it tied Cambridge for 18th in the Division III, Region 9 computer ratings. The top eight teams qualified for the playoffs.

The Rams lost three close games that they feel cost them a postseason berth.

Whitehall lost to Bloom-Carroll 52-51 in triple overtime Sept. 6, fell to Bexley 35-34 in double overtime Sept 27 and lost to Columbus Academy 42-40 on Oct. 4.

"We lost in triple overtime to Bloom-Carroll, in (double) overtime to Bexley and then (lost) by two to Academy," senior quarterback Cody Koons said. "We really feel like those are games that if we would have made some plays, or made that one big play sooner, those games would have been ours. That kind of leaves a sour taste in our mouth, but we're still happy. We know we played hard and gave it our all."

The Rams featured a pair of 1,000 rushers in Koons and senior running back Shaquille Alexander.

Alexander, who was one of 14 seniors, rushed for 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns on 214 carries and Koons added 1,022 yards and nine touchdowns on 181 carries.

Koons completed 89 of 161 passes for 1,408 yards with 18 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also had four interceptions as a defensive back.

Against Bexley, Alexander scored five touchdowns to set a program record for a game that includes overtimes. Dan Gartner remains tied for the 52-year-old program record of four touchdowns in regulation. Gartner is the program's equipment manager.

Alexander scored four touchdowns in regulation and one in the second overtime.

Alexander and Koons were named first-team all-league.

"I'm not happy due to our expectations and our goals we set for ourselves and we didn't reach them, but I'm very happy with the progress we made as a team and the mentality that our team kept all year -- never give up, it's never over," Koons said. "I was really happy with that."

Senior running back/wide receiver B.J. Upchurch also was named first-team all-league after catching 40 passes for 630 yards and seven touchdowns and rushing for 281 yards and three touchdowns on 47 carries.

Upchurch, also a defensive back, had five interceptions, returning two for touchdowns.

Senior Dylan Rice (OL/DL) and juniors Cameron Barker (OL/LB) and J.D. Hornberger (OL/DL) were second-team all-league.

Senior D.A. Sanders (TE/LB) and juniors Jaquan Bevly (OL/DL) and Dassan Jefferson (RB/DB) were honorable mention all-league.

Senior wide receiver Demetrius Ridgeway had 22 receptions for 390 yards and five touchdowns.

Coach Jake Kuhner credited the senior class for contributing to the improvement. Last season, the Rams were 3-7 overall and 2-5 in the MSL-Ohio.

"It was a great senior class," he said. "Also, the parents were very helpful this year. They did a great job planning team meals and pregame meals. We had a lot of senior parents involved in that. You couldn't ask for a better group. Mentally, physically and the personality of them, they're just a great bunch of kids."

The Rams rushed for 2,550 yards and passed for 1,405. They scored 36.1 points per game and allowed 29.9.

Whitehall fell to 2-4 overall after losing to Academy, but then defeated Grandview 36-0 on Oct. 11, London 47-20 on Oct. 18 and Madison Plains 54-14 on Nov. 1 to finish .500.

West Jefferson defeated the Rams 44-19 on Oct. 25 on its way to winning the league title at 6-0.

"It was a great end to the season," Kuhner said. "We were 5-5 and that was better than what we did last year. We improved from last year. That's the biggest thing that we can get out of this."

Whitehall finished fourth in the league, behind West Jefferson, 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.

Kuhner expects junior Tristen Ritchie and freshmen Brandon Hopkins and Dashonte Vaughn to contend for the starting quarterback position next year. He said sophomore Jawuan Hammock and freshman Siraj Muham-med could be featured running backs.

"The kids realized that we can compete with other teams," Kuhner said. "We let a couple games slip through our fingers and hopefully that doesn't happen next year. We went through that this year with those tough games and hopefully that's something that we take and learn from."

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