The linemen of Warrensburg and Whitehall clash in their teams' showdown Saturday Oct. 19. Overcoming a radical roster shake-up due to the injury of their star running back, the Burghers prevailed — and now advance to a post-season game Friday against Rensselaer.
Regardless of a radical roster shift due to their star running back being sidelined by an injury, the Warrensburg High School football team overpowered Whitehall Saturday Oct. 19 and captured third seed in the Section Class D North Section II tournament.
Warrensburg combined a steely defense, raw determination, powerful blocking and several surprise plays to defeat Whitehall 42-20.
The Burghers’ early scoring set the tone for the game. Whitehall won the toss and elected to kick. Beefy Burgher Jake Nemec grabbed the ball and ran like a locomotive for a return tallying nearly 50 yards, setting the stage for the Burghers’ successful campaign.
Sophomore Joe Schuster, in his first Varsity start, then accomplished three key runs, two of them more than 10 yards. Soon after, Alex “Tiki” Barber scored the Burghers’ first touchdown from the 3 yard line with 8:15 left in the first quarter.
The Burghers then took a risk with an onside kick, but it paid off. The ball bounced off a Whitehall player’s shin- and Matt Boodman fell on it — on the Railroaders’ 45 yard line. Schuster followed this gift with a series of runs similar to his prior drive.
Soon after, Barber charged over the goal line for the Burghers’ second touchdown in less than three minutes. The remainder of the quarter, Warrensburg’s defense, keying in on Whitehall’s offensive star Justin Hoagland, kept the Railroaders scoreless for the remainder of the quarter.
Burghers stumble, but resume campaign
During the second stanza, the Railroaders fought back, conducting three successful drives on yardage gained with Hoagland’s passes and on the ground primarily by Freshman Darryl Hillman. Only 37 seconds into the 3rd quarter, Whitehall was leading 20-16.
Warrensburg then regained their momentum, and from then on, it was Warrensburg’s showtime. After several solid runs by Schuster and a 13-yard scamper by quarterback Malachi Prosser, the playmaker floated a pass to Sophomore Nemec, who jumped up above two defenders and brought down the ball. Shaking off three tackles, he barged over the goal line.
After containing Whitehall and forcing a punt, the Burghers scored in a 69-yard, 11 play drive — which included a third-down, 13-yard run by Prosser, a first down that Schuster earned with a six-yard run, and an 8-yard gain up the middle by Marcus Perrone — followed by a 12-yard run by Prosser. Two plays later, early in the fourth quarter, Prosser again demonstrated his savvy decision-making. When he collided in the backfield with his running back and missed a handoff, he covertly tucked the ball in his arms and charged in the opposite direction for a 20-yard touchdown run — faking out not only the Railroaders, but his own coaches as well.
Schuster then accomplished a three-yard conversion.
Not long afterwards, the Burgher defense again came up with a pivotal play. When Hoagland attempted a 20-yard pass, Prosser streaked in from his safety position and stole the ball from the receiver’s hands and ran it back 55 yards — behind Burgher blockers — for a touchdown. In this interception, the first of four for the Burghers, Matt Boodman made a key block.
Not long afterwards, Prosser got his hands in the way of another Hoagland pass. He batted it into the air, and teammate Trevor Baker lunged for it, then carried the ball 20 yards towards the goal line. Within five plays, the Burghers scored again. The drive featured Schuster gaining 10 yards in a third-and-eight situation. Two plays later, Prosser scored on a 26-yard sweep to the sidelines, advancing the score to 42-20.
Tough Burgher defense, including interceptions by Baker and Perrone, preserved the Burgher score advantage. It had been four years since the Burghers tallied four pickoffs in one matchup.
Sleepless coach running on adrenaline
Following the game, Head Burgher Coach Mike Leonbruno gave several of his key players hugs. He had been operating on adrenaline, not having much sleep on Friday night — senior standout runner Connor Scott had woken him up with a phone call at 3 a.m., and said his injury was serious enough to keep him sidelined.
“I’ve been up since 3 a.m., trying to come up with a plan to compensate,” Leonbruno said soon after the field cleared. Just hours before the game, Leonbruno had shifted a good portion of his lineup.
Filling in for Scott with powerful running were Schuster with 101 key yards gained and Prosser with 96, backed up by Perrone, Boodman, Barber and 8th grader Greg Shambo.
“The guys really stepped up for us — this was huge,” Leonbruno said. The coach continued, observing how Schuster, a mere 130 pounds or so, stepped into his new role with such success.
“Schuster is small and young, and not super-fast — but he’s got good vision and he’s shifty,” Leonbruno said. “He did a great job following his blockers.”
Players ecstatic about outcome
Connor Scott, on the sidelines, watched Leonbruno hug Trevor Baker, and he grinned.
“Oh my Lord, there are no words to describe this,” he said. “The team had a lot of heart and they played rough, tough football.”
Schuster, helmet in his hand, also sported a broad smile. Prior to this game, he had only run once on Varsity.
“This feels awesome, running against a really good team like Whitehall,” he said, noting that Scott had given him valuable advice whenever he had come off the field.
Deferring credit to his teammates, Prosser said the win was especially important to the seniors.
“This is like a miracle,” he said. “This was a great team effort — everyone blocked right, pulled together,” he said.
Baker, an outside linebacker, was also grinning as coaches were congratulating him on his defensive play. His two interceptions in the game were his first ever.
Baker said the players were charged up because two key seniors were on the sidelines.
“This was the last game ever on our home field,” he said. “This is the best feeling I’ve had all year — To be in the playoffs, I’m pumped.”
Warrensburg plays at Rensselaer 7 p.m. Friday under the lights on the Rams’ field.