‘This is their moment’ says East Stroudsburg South football coach Matt Walters after his Cavs staged an amazing rally to win District 11 Class 5A championship
It was worth the wait.
One year after Whitehall and East Stroudsburg South were supposed to meet for the District 11 5A championship and COVID-19 intervened, they met Friday night at Lehighton Multi-Purpose Stadium and it was a classic.
In an offensive spectacle in which both Whitehall quarterback Trey Dogmanits and South senior QB Bobby McClosky and others kept making big play after big play, regulation wasn’t enough to decide it.
The Cavaliers who won their second district title in four years and fourth overall, rallied from deficits of 13-0, 27-6, 33-21, and 41-27 to tie it with 19 seconds left in regulation and then got an immediate stop in the extra period when McClosky came up with an interception on Whitehall’s first play of overtime.
On South’s second play of OT, McClosky, who passed for 283 yards and ran for 142 and had a hand in six of his team’s seven touchdowns, found Shane Bulay in the left flat and Bulay scurried into the end zone to begin a celebration that was sure to continue all the way back to Monroe County on Route 209.
“All of these kids deserved this,” emotional Cavs coach Matt Walters said. “They lived in the shadow for 365 [days] and they have lived in the shadow their whole lives. This is their moment. This is their title, 2021 Cavaliers. I love them. The kids never gave up and they fought and fought.”
South never led until the game’s final play and refused to go away despite two and three TD deficits most of the night in a game that featured 13 touchdowns and 822 yards of offense. It was the highest-scoring district final since Palisades beat Lehighton 48-42 in the 2017 Class 3A title game.
“Coach said at halftime that we were the better and we had to keep our heads up,” said senior Ron Blake who got the tying TD by carrying Whitehall defenders into the end zone with 19 seconds left in regulation. “We shot ourselves in the foot and made mental mistakes, but once we picked it up, we knew we were the better team and once I got in the end zone, I knew we had it. We did this for the guys last year. We did what we had to do and got the gold for them.”
Whitehall, which was hurt by injuries after getting off to a 3-0 start, finished 4-7.
There were tears in the Zephyrs eyes as they received their silver medals while standing on the field and coach Matt Senneca struggled to find the right words in the postgame huddle. He thanked the seniors for buying in after going through a winless sophomore season two years ago.
He said they persevered, laid a foundation, and got the program back to a level where it could compete for district titles. Friday’s game was the Zephyrs’ second straight appearance in the finals and for a long time, it looked like they would repeat.
Dogmanits, a sophomore who became the starting quarterback halfway through the season in place of injured Quinn Wentling, had thrown just two touchdown passes this season, but threw four in this one.
Three went to senior Bryce Bashore and another to Damonte Foreman, who also had two rushing TDs.
In fact, Dogmanits found Bashore for the three TD passes in the game’s first 15 minutes. The tosses covered 14, 4 and 12 yards.
East Stroudsburg South was stopped on its first possession but went 81 yards the next time it had the ball and got a 10-yard TD pass from McClosky to Colin Burdian, the first of his three TD receptions.
Early in the second quarter, the Cavaliers had the ball deep in Whitehall territory and appeared set to get a tying touchdown, but the ball popped free on a carry by Blake and went airborne and through the end zone before South could gain possession.
Blake, a bruising two-way performer who had 1,047 yards rushing and 20 TDs coming in, fumbled again in a critical spot. On fourth-and-4 at the South 48, he broke free for a big gain and an apparent first down but the ball came loose and was recovered by Jack Kocher at the Zephs 34.
Whitehall took advantage of the turnover and turned it into points as a 7-play drive resulted in a 7-yard Foreman TD run to make it 27-6 with 3:39 left in the half.
However, South got back in the game with a drive before halftime. On fourth-and-10 from the Whitehall 15, they got a second TD pass from McClosky to Burdian and McClosky hit Jose Almonte for the two-point conversion to get the Monroe County team within 27-14 at intermission.
East Stroudsburg South (8-3) then scored on the first possession of the second half, getting a 13-play, 72-yard drive capped by a McClosky TD run.
Whitehall answered with its own drive and Foreman scored from a yard out on fourth-and-goal to go up 33-21, but South scored on a third straight possession with McClosky making two big throws to Burdian for 68 yards and then kept it himself on a 3-yard run on the first play of the fourth period to make it 33-27.
It became apparent that Whitehall had to keep scoring to stay in front. The Zephyrs defense got a stop and an 8-yard pass from Dogmanits to Devin Donatelli and a two-point conversion toss to Foreman made it 41-27 with 8:32 left.
But it would prove to be the last celebration of the night for the Zephyrs as South would score the game’s final 20 points.
McClosky was unstoppable in the air and on the ground. He scored on a 1-yard run with 2:23 left and South, which has tried onside kicks all season, got one at just the right time.
The Cavs took advantage of the short field to get the tying TD from Blake with 19 seconds left.
South won the toss to start overtime, and three plays into it, they won the game and the program’s fourth district title, and first under Walters, a former Cavaliers player who is in his third season as coach after replacing his coach, the legendary Ed Christian, who retired after winning a district title in 2018.
East Stroudsburg will play District 10 champ Erie Cathedral Prep in the first round of the 5A PIAA tournament next weekend at a time and site to be announced. The Ramblers routed District 6 champ 48-7 and will be a tough challenge for the Cavs, who haven’t won a state playoff game since 1995.
But after what happened Friday, it’s hard to doubt the guys in purple.
“The kids believed in the game plan and they fought,” Walters said. “We spent all summer working on onsides kick and it paid off. We got it!”
Whitehall entered Friday’s game with six District 11 championships under five different head coaches and in three different classes. The late Joe Gerencser guided the Zephyrs to the 1986 3A crown when there were just three classes. In 1989, John Bendekovits, who had been one of Gerencser’s assistants, led Whitehall to the 4A championship.
Current RCN broadcaster Tony Cocca led Whitehall to the 1997 4A gold and then there was a long gap before Brian Gilbert’s teams won back-to-back 5A titles in 2016 and 2017.
Then one season after going winless, Senneca led Whitehall to last year’s 5A championship.
East Stroudsburg South won its previous three district titles all under Christian. The titles came in 1985, in just the second year the district crowned champs. Then the record-breaking James Mungro led the Cavs to the 1995 gold and the last one before Friday night came in 2018, Christian’s last season as coach.
Whitehall 13 - 14 - 6 - 8 - 0 — 41
ES South 6 - 8 - 7 - 20 - 6 — 47
W: Bryce Bashore 14 pass from Trey Dogmanits (kick failed), 8:56
W: Bashore 4 pass from Dogmanits (Andy Deutsch kick), 6:15
ES: Colin Burdian 9 pass from Bobby McClosky (run failed), 3:24
W: Bashore 12 pass from Dogmanits (Deutsch kick), 9:09
W: Foreman 7 run (Deutsch kick (Deutsch kick), 3:39
ES: Burdian 15 pass from McClosky (Jose Almonte pass from McClosky), 0:26
ES: McClosky 1 run (Aaron Juszynski kick), 6:31
W: Foreman 1 run (pass failed), 0:44
ES: McClosky 3 (kick failed), 11:57
W: Devin Donatelli 8 pass from Dogmanits (Foreman pass from Dogmanits), 8:32
ES: Burdian 9 pass from McClosky (McClosky run), 2:23
ES: Ron Blake 3 run (kick failed), 0:19
ES: Shane Bulay 10 pass from McClosky, 2nd play of 1st possession
Whitehall (31-107): Foreman 23-125, 2 TD; Bashore 2-11; Linton 2-(-3); Dogmanits 2-5; Team 2-(-31).
ES South (40-193): Blake 9-21, TD; Welge 8-28; Burdian 1-2; McClosky 22-142, 2 TD.
Whitehall: Dogmanits 17-20-1, 239 yards, 4 TD; Bashore 0-1.
ES South: McClosky 21-38-0, 283 yards, 4 TD.
Whitehall: Bashore 5-74, 3 TD; Buskirk 5-64; Foreman 2-53; Kovalchick 3-35; Donatelli 2-13, TD.
ES South: Bulay 8-100, TD; Burdian 7-126, 3 TD; Spencer 2-32; Perez 2-7; Welge 1-6; Almonte 1-12.
We rely on the support of our subscribers to fund our journalism. If you’re not already signed up, we hope you will consider subscribing . Already a print subscriber? If you haven’t already, please activate your digital access .