Zephyrs still had good year
The Whitehall football team's year ended in Bethlehem, but the journey to the Christmas City was decorated with enough shining moments, making it one of the most memorable in recent seasons.
The 2014 season featured enough thrills to satisfy a Dan Brown reader. They played two overtime games, had two other games that came down to the last possession, were part of a 112-point barrage at Easton's Cottingham Stadium that left fans breathless at regular intervals, and beat rival Parkland to win back the Joe Gerencser Trophy.
They also racked up 4,417 yards of total offense and scored 448 points. They only punted 25 times the entire year.
To be sure, they were looking forward to exacting some revenge against Freedom in the district quarterfinal game, and then prepare for the rematch against Easton. However, the Pates foiled their plans, ending their season with a 17-14 win.
"It didn't finish how we wanted to," said head coach Brian Gilbert. "But in the grand scheme of things, it was our third trip to the district playoffs, and we finished the year with eight wins. Not too bad."
Gilbert was also pleased how they overcame adversity throughout the season, citing their comeback wins against Emmaus and Allentown Central Catholic that demonstrated their resiliency.
"We were certainly in our share of big games this season," said Gilbert. "We found a way to win some of those games."
He also said that the effort he got from his entire roster contributed to their successful season.
With their string of postseason appearances, and having Saquon Barkley who is arguably the best player in the league counted among their ranks, Gilbert believed those factors led to a big bull's-eye on their chests.
"One thing we found this year, was that we got everyone's best game," said Gilbert. "We were a target for a lot of teams."
Even with team's circling the Zephs on the calendar, they still managed to finish second in the South Division of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference behind undefeated Easton. They finished the year 8-3, making it to the quarters in the District 2/4/11 subregional playoffs.
Graduation's going to take its toll on the Zephyrs. They'll lose 21 starters, leaving them with a new roster heading into 2015. That leaves only quarterback Gianni Sinatore as a returning starter.
Sinatore had an exceptional year. He threw for 1,820 yards and 21 touchdowns. His 21 touchdowns set a single-season record, and his 1,820 yards places him fourth all-time among Zephyr quarterbacks for a year.
He'll be tasked to lead a young team as they prepare to head into a year where every position will be contested.
However, they still have players returning with game experience including Bryce Crum who saw significant minutes at safety, as well as at running back. Additionally, offensive lineman Mike Smith saw action this year, giving them one player in the trenches returning for the 2015 campaign.
Among those graduating are backs Barkley and Jacob Buskirk, a hard duo to replace. Barkley was this year's rushing leader in the EPC during the regular season, and set career marks in TDs and yards this year. He also set the single-season rushing total this year, gaining 1,851 yards, and broke his own touchdown mark which he set last season with 29.
Buskirk finished the season with 365 yards, including 4 TDs. He also caught 12 balls for 184 yards and 4 scores.
It will be hard to replace that production, as well as their talented receiving corps featuring Conor Sullivan, Chad Rex, Mustafa Mitchell, Zach Hixson and Dalton Burrows.
Additionally, the line will have to be overhauled as Danny Roustic, Angel Rodriguez, Orlando Bonilla, Joe Mark, Anthony Dex and Matthew Meyers leave the program.
"I'm excited for the challenge," said Gilbert. "It's going to create a lot of competition. They're all up for grabs right now."
He said that this offseason will be cruoffseasonthat players will have to be ready to work between now and next season. Still, he expects them to be prepared as they roll into summer camp.
"We have a long way to go," said Gilbert. "We have to get these guys as much experience as we can."
He said it's now time for the young players to step up and be part of a winning tradition they've established at Whitehall.