Whitehall downs PV
It’s a coach’s worst nightmare.
And it’s almost impossible to recover from it.
For Pleasant Valley and Blaec Saeger, the unfortunate ordeal happened to them on Friday night.
The Bears turned the ball over on their first four possessions against Whitehall in a District 11 Class 5A semifinal game, and the Zephyrs took full advantage en route to a 49-14 victory.
Whitehall scored all four times after PV’s fumbles to build a 27-0 lead just nine minutes into the contest.
“It’s tough to beat a Midget team with four straight turnovers on your first drives, let alone a Lehigh Valley team like Whitehall,” said Saeger. “And they made us pay.
“We moved the ball really well, and that was the hardest part. It’s not like we were getting stuffed. We moved the ball almost at will, and then we kept shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Not only did the second-seeded Bears cough the ball up, but because of returns and a penalty, Whitehall started three of their first four possessions inside the red zone.
Nigel Linton converted two of those into touchdowns on short runs, and added a third on a 26-yard burst. Another short field resulted in a 13-yard scoring strike from Trey Dogmanits to Braden Bashore.
“I don’t know if it was us taking away what they usually do with the fullback dive and them having to go to the pitch, which we saw on film they haven’t really done a ton,” said Zephyr coach Matt Senneca about the miscues. “Any time you can create four turnovers on defense, especially in one quarter to start the game, and give us the short field position that we had, that’s huge - especially in a district game like this.
“You win the field position battle, and you win the turnover battle, you have a pretty good shot to win the game.”
Whitehall’s offense proved it didn’t just need a short field to score.
After the Bears (7-4) got on the scoreboard, driving 65 yards in 11 plays, the third-seeded Zephyrs unleashed its quick-strike offense.
Fela Olaniyan accounted for 33 yards, including the final one for PV when it cut into the lead, making it 27-7. But less than two minutes later, Whitehall (6-5) was back in the end zone.
Three runs by Linton and a 30-yard pass to Bashore set up Dogmanits for his 4-yard tally that put the margin back to 27 points.
Following a turnover on downs by PV, the visitors needed just seven plays to move 44 yards and extend the advantage. Dogmanits found Bashore again, this time on a third-and-19 call, for a 25-yard touchdown with less than two minutes until halftime.
“We know what these Valley teams are ... you’ve got to play perfect to beat these teams and we didn’t,” said Saeger. “We did have opportunities. But even if we didn’t turn the ball over, their offense is so dynamic ... I don’t know that we could have done much to stop them, they’re so fast.”
Even when Whitehall used its subs to start the second half, their offense continued to click.
On the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Jermel Mumford broke free for a 40-yard scoring run.
PV did manage another score, as an Olaniyan 68-yard run set up his second 1-yard TD. The senior finished with 129 yards on 17 carries.
“You stop him, and I feel like you put their offense in a little bit of a predicament, but that’s easier said than done,” said Senneca about Olaniyan and the Bears’ triple-option offense. “The kid runs hard and they come off the ball really hard. You go against an offense you never see and it gives you some challenges, but I was happy with the way our kids stepped up.”
Saeger was also happy with the efforts from his players this season, as the Bears produced their most wins since 2016.
“It was a fantastic year,” said Saeger. “This group was the first unit to come through all four years with us ... They continued to grow, through the COVID mess as sophomores, and this group made the playoffs for three years. They don’t know what it’s like to end the season in Week 10. That’s something considering when they were freshmen they watched us go 0-10.
“They were the group that said that’s not going to happen anymore. They got in the weight room, and they were just tough, hardworking kids. They were very fun to coach.”
UP NEXT ... While Pleasant Valley’s season comes to an end, Whitehall returns to action Saturday night when it will face top-seeded Southern Lehigh in the 5A title game at Catty, now scheduled for 7 p.m.
It’s part of a tripleheader for the day thanks to the pending tropical storm scheduled to hit the area Friday which caused games to move to either Thursday night or Saturday.
Catty will face Exectuive Education at 11 a.m. at Whitehall in 2A. Bethlehem Catholic takes on Central Catholic at Whitehall at 4 p.m. in 4A.
TOUGH CONNECTION ... Dogmanits found Bashore five times in the game for 110 yards. “Trey had a good game tonight,” said Senneca. “It’s just a matter of which receiver he’s going to pick, because we have a couple of good ones. And it was Bashore tonight.”