WHITEHALL Fast starts don't always mean the difference between winning and losing.
But on Friday night, it was a definite factor in Whitehall's 56-28 District 11 Class AAAA subregional quarterfinal win over Pleasant Valley.
The Zephyrs had quick starts both at the start of the game and the beginning of the second half to bring the Bears' season to an abrupt end.
"Our kids settle in and they seem to play better when the chips are down," said Pleasant Valley head coach Jim Terwilliger, whose team finished 7-4. "This is a resilient bunch of guys and they've played from behind a lot this year. When they get into the swing of things and their backs are against the wall they play extremely hard. But you'd like to come out of the gates well in a big game and tonight that certainly didn't happen."
The Bears went three-and-out on their first two possessions while Whitehall needed just six plays to score twice and open up a 14-0 advantage.
PV held its own the rest of the half and kept the deficit at two scores, but the start of the second half was much like the first. The Zephyrs (10-1) had back-to-back five-play scoring drives in the first five-plus minutes of the third quarter to turn a reasonably close game into a 49-21 margin.
"It was a good start," said Whitehall mentor Brian Gilbert. "Fast starts for us is when we're on defense first, to keep them three-and-out, and on offense it's to go down and score. We were happy with the first and third quarters and having fast starts.
"We got up three touchdowns and I think we got out of our gamplan a little bit ... They're a good team and well-coached. If you let your guard down, even for a second, they're going to make you pay for it. We just had to make sure we scored because their offense is explosive."
Gilbert's club defined explosive all night long, totaling 564 yards of offense.
And the first 47 came on a trick play that put the Bears in an early hole.
Whitehall quarterback Jeff Charles threw a short pass to Conor Sullivan, who latered the ball to Saquon Barkley. The hook-and-lateral went the distance for a 7-0 early lead.
"They had a nice play call on their first play," said Terwilliger. "That play didn't change the game but it certainly put us down pretty quick. We have to be able to come back on our end to make that play not as effective."
Unfortunately for the Bears, they couldn't move the ball after the score and the Zephyrs wasted little time doubling their advantage. Charles, who threw for 223 yards in the first half , hit Sullivan for 15 yards during a 1:04 no-huddle march that ended with a 23-yard scoring strike to Ryan Bonshak.
"Whitehall is just a good football team," said Terwilliger. "They run the ball well, they pass the ball well. When a team can do both those things well it's tough to defense."
The lead swelled to 21-0 on Barkley's one-yard touchdown run but the Bears battled back by scoring three times in the final 3:41 of the first half.
Brandon Leap hit Tanner Parascando with a 26-yard scoring pass to get his team on the board and his 39-yard toss to Dalton Davidson set up Austyn Borre's six-yard run to the end zone. With Whitehall trying to tack on additional points before the half, Nyiem Nevarez picked off a Charles pass and went 46 yards with a pick-six.
"We came out and it was like, shoot not this again. We came out slow and we weren't playing," said Leap. "Then we had some guys step up and make big plays. We were excited. What team wouldn't be? We were down just 14 (at halftime) and still in it. We still had a chance. It just sucks that we came out slow again."
Whitehall received the second-half kickoff and put the game away with their first two touches.
Bonshak broke loose for a 38-yard run to set up a five-yard tally by Darius Young. After the Bears couldn't move and were forced to punt, Bonshak scampered for a 23-yard score and a 49-21 spread that was too much for the Bears to overcome.
"If you would have told me we would end the regular season 7-3 I'd have been real happy considering we returned just four starters from last year," said Terwilliger. "These seniors are a special group of guys. I really appreciate the time, the work, the dedication and the leadership they've shown are program. They set a real high bar here and hopefully the younger kids will continue the success."
One of those seniors, Leap, threw for 199 yards and one touchdown and scored his team's final touchdown of the evening on a 16-yard scramble with 5:21 left to play.
"What I'll remember about this year is playing with these guys," said Leap. "Knowing I can't play with these guys again just kills me. It was a great year."