After capturing the MSL-Ohio Division title, the Whitehall-Yearling High School football team has set its sights on an even bigger goal.
The fifth-seeded Rams begin their pursuit of a Division II, Region 7 championship when they visit fourth-seeded Dover for a first-round game Friday, Nov. 2.
The winner plays top-seeded Massillon Washington or eighth-seeded Walnut Ridge in a regional semifinal Nov. 9.
“(The league title) is a good feeling right now, but we have our eyes set on these playoffs,” said senior center Ryan Redifer, whose team is 9-1 overall and finished 5-0 in the MSL-Ohio. “We’re playoff-ready.”
The Rams won their ninth game in a row, clinched a third consecutive postseason appearance and secured the league title with a 34-15 win over visiting London on Oct. 26. Quarterback Raymell Byrd led the way, rushing for 233 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries and throwing a 30-yard scoring pass.
Isaiah Oney’s 90-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter sealed the win.
For the season, Byrd has rushed for 1,557 yards and 22 touchdowns and passed for 906 yards and five scores. He also has a receiving touchdown and a kickoff return for a score.
Wayne Blackshear has rushed for 623 yards and six touchdowns on 136 carries, and Christian Gordon has 31 receptions for 500 yards and six touchdowns.
“They obviously have some very good, skilled players,” Dover coach Dan Ifft said. “That quarterback is an outstanding athlete. They have a couple fast kids at receiver and two big, stallion-type kids at running back. Their coach does a wonderful job getting their kids the ball in spaces. Up front they’re big and seem to be aggressive. Defensively they’re very quick and very aggressive as well.”
While Byrd and the Rams’ other playmakers receive plenty of attention from opposing coaches, Whitehall coach Rod Lightfoot said he considers the offensive line to be his “unsung heroes,” with Redifer anchoring that unit.
“We have a lot of playmakers and we have a lot of returning people with playoff experience from the past two years, so we want to build off that,” Redifer said. “We have a bunch of talent everywhere and we have chemistry from winning, so when you put those two together, that is really good.”
Whitehall lost in the first round the past two seasons, falling to New Albany 42-35 last year and Bexley 31-21 in 2016.
“The goal was to get to the playoffs,” Lightfoot said. “These seniors especially, they want it to be meaningful and try to do what they can to get to that second week. We have Dover first, so we’re going … to get our kids ready to play the Tornadoes.”
Dover last qualified for the playoffs in 2016, losing to Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary 42-7 in the first round.
Lightfoot, who has family ties in the Dover area, said the Tornadoes feature a high-powered offense and a talented group of receivers.
“They go five-wide and they have tremendous size on both their offensive and defensive fronts,” Lightfoot said. “They’re very mobile up front. The receivers do an outstanding job of executing their routes. They’re pretty long. They run crisp routes and their quarterback knows exactly where they are and he delivers the ball pretty quick, which you have to do when you’re going five-wide.”
Ethan Snyder has 24 catches for 622 yards and eight touchdowns, Jules Freeman has 47 receptions for 557 yards and six touchdowns and Oshea Williams has 28 catches for 357 yards and two scores.
Quarterback Alec Sayre has completed 141 of 188 passes for 1,980 yards with 19 touchdowns and two interceptions. He also has rushed for 537 yards and 16 touchdowns on 98 carries, and Kyler Folkert has rushed for 565 yards and 11 touchdowns on 90 carries.
Ian Sexton leads the defense with 83 tackles, followed by Mason Stutzman (70) and Keaton Hall (67).
Volleyball coach steps down
Girls volleyball coach Danielle Jackson announced she’s stepping down after 10 seasons to spend more time with family.
“I have truly enjoyed coaching the players in Whitehall and will definitely miss it, but it’s time for me to focus on my family,” she said. “I will still be around to help and support the new coach and the girls.”
The Rams finished 2-18 overall and 1-7 in the MSL-Ohio. Seeded 23rd for the Division II district tournament, they lost at sixth-seeded Bloom-Carroll 25-9, 25-17, 25-8 in the first round Oct. 15.
“The girls fought hard this season,” Jackson said. “We had lots of ups and downs, but they never gave up. The seniors have dedicated their time and effort to the volleyball program. All three of them will be really hard to replace next year.”
Senior outside hitter Makhia Hinton was named first-team all-league, senior outside hitter Alyson Shoemaker was second-team all-league and senior setter Riley Maxstead was honorable mention all-league.
Players eligible to return include juniors Samara Burton (outside hitter), Tashy Cherotich (outside hitter), Kaila Daugherty (middle hitter), Areon Fikes (middle hitter) and Madisyn Stewart (defensive specialist) and sophomore Mya Fuller (setter).