Moments after a 63-6 season-opening loss at Westerville Central on Aug. 30, Whitehall-Yearling football coach Rod Lightfoot delivered an impassioned speech to his team.
Although the Rams were soundly defeated, Lightfoot credited the players for displaying heart and determination throughout the game.
The Rams will look to bounce back when they visit Northland on Friday, Sept. 6. They avenged a 31-28 loss to the Vikings in 2017 with a 31-28 win last season.
"We have a big game for us with Northland," Lightfoot said. "It's a must win for us. It gives us a chance. We're still in the playoff picture. We have to beat Northland as far as the (playoff) points are concerned. It's a big game and we'll have our kids ready to go. ... Things have to get better."
After losing to Central, a Division I program, in last season's opener, the Rams went on to win 10 consecutive games before falling to Massillon Washington 35-17 in a Division II, Region 7 semifinal to finish 10-2. The Rams are now in Region 8.
Lightfoot and his team are looking for similar results this season.
"Everyone can use improvement," senior lineman Stephuan Ellis said. "I did see a lot of good out of (the Central) game, (but) I (also saw) a lot of bad out of that game. We can all do better. We have a lot to work on. It's just repetition that's going to get us to where we need to be."
Whitehall ended up being outgained 370-47 against Central. Ni'Kai Cameron threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Christian Gordon in the first quarter.
"Westerville Central is one of the top teams in central Ohio," Lightfoot said. "All I wanted tonight is for our kids to come out and play together and play with 100 percent effort and they did that. They didn't back down and I'm proud of them."
Northland, which plays in Division II, Region 7, opened with a 49-0 loss at Division I Marysville on Aug. 30.
The Vikings are led by senior Kalil Branham, who has committed to Kentucky. After switching from wide receiver to quarterback last season, he has moved back to receiver.
As a sophomore, Branham had 311 yards receiving and scored seven touchdowns. Last season, he passed for 1,003 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushed for 295 yards and five scores while adding two receiving touchdowns.
Northland is coming off an 8-2 season in which it fell four spots short of the playoffs, but it also was hit hard by graduation. Of the 12 players who earned either first- or second-team all-City League honors last season, all but Branham were seniors.
Boys cross country coach optimistic
Boys cross country coach Robert Taylor believes the Rams can develop into a solid team.
Whitehall finished fourth (147) in the nine-team Dan Reid Invitational on Aug. 24 at home behind champion Lakewood (21).
Sophomore Daba Hordofe, who finished 11th of 104 runners in 19 minutes, 15.3 seconds to lead the Rams, "has a very high ceiling," according to Taylor.
Junior Yared Yesuf was 24th (20:00.9), followed by sophomores Keteme Feye (28th, 20:20.5) and Sam McQuate (67th, 23:40.8), senior Carter Paddock (71st, 23:47.9) and junior Mike Hernandez (76th, 23:56.3).
The Rams finished 13th (359) of 13 teams in the Granville Invitational on Aug. 31 behind champion New Albany (66). Hordofe finished 34th (18:27.63) of 117 runners to lead Whitehall.
Taylor also expects juniors Adonay Estifanos, Anthony Hampton, Trent Highman and Jaylin Moody and sophomores Eyobong Ita and Nathan Pooch to contribute.
"We've built up some good momentum lately," said Taylor, who is in his ninth season. "We have a few more coming out and our roster might grow. We always add a few once the year starts."
The girls team lacks depth, but second-year coach Natasha Gallagher hopes to add runners to the roster.
Senior Tatiana Figueroa finished 35th (27:16.3) of 62 runners in the Dan Reid Invitational. Senior Cali Justice was 55th (32:54.2), senior Rebekah Revadelo was 60th (38:40.7) and senior Amy Hernandez was 62nd (44:17).
Figueroa finished 94th (27:36) of 167 runners to lead the Rams at Granville.
The girls did not have enough runners for a team score in either meet.
"We want to have fun this season," Gallagher said.
"Even though we don't have as many (runners) as last year, they've been very committed and they're all seniors."
Boys soccer team ties Bexley
Despite playing the final 12 minutes with just 10 players, the boys soccer team battled Bexley to a scoreless tie Aug. 31 in its MSL-Ohio Division opener.
Goalkeeper Jared Alvarez had nine saves for the Rams, who were unable to convert a penalty kick in the second half.
The Rams are 1-1-2.
Below are the coming schedules for the Whitehall-Yearling boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 5 -- Home vs. Grove City
Sept. 11 -- At Logan
*Sept. 7 -- At Columbus School for Girls
Sept. 9 -- At Heath
*Sept. 11 -- Home vs. Grandview
*Sept. 5 -- At CSG
Sept. 10 -- At Canal Winchester
Sept. 11 -- Home vs. Franklin Heights
*Sept. 5 -- At Grandview
*Sept. 10 -- Home vs. Columbus Academy