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Rivalry Friday

Warriors eye NBC; Quakers hope to play spoiler

October 25, 2012
Morning Journal News

BELOIT - At first glance, a week 10 match up between Salem and West Branch might not elicit much of a reaction.

But aside from both teams being out of the playoff picture, with a rivalry game there is still much to play for.

Bragging rights, a share of an NBC league title and one last opportunity to become the all-time winningest class against the Warriors in Salem High School football history are what's at stake in the 2012 installment of West Branch vs. Salem.

The Warriors will earn a share of the NBC title with a victory. Even though they are mathematically eliminated from post-season play, the game may have a playoff feel for both teams.

"I think I said it last year; it's great that this game is week 10 because there could be a lot of things riding on it," West Branch coach D.J. Dota said. "There's been a lot of upsets of Salem coming in and West Branch getting knocked off. The state title year they had to go into overtime to beat them, so there's a lot of tradition."

It's also the Quakers last chance to send their senior class off with the most wins of any class in Salem High School football history. To do so against West Branch could add to the sweetness of the accomplishment.

"It would be great," Salem head coach Ron Johnson said. "That's unprecedented. For them to win four straight and never lose to them it would be a great sweep for those guys and for them to finish their careers in the right way."

Though a lack of success is what might be visible now, Johnson says these seniors with solid work ethic and values have laid the foundation for it in the future.

"They've set the precedent," Johnson said. "We told the seniors early on that they might not win the brass ring this year, and meet all their goals of being a state champion. But when it does happen, and it's going to happen, they'll be the first group that will be invited back and be a big reason for that to happen."

As customary for a Ron Johnson team, the Monday of week 10 is when team captains are elected. This year is no different.

Junior wide receiver Marcus Crittenden and sophomore offensive linemen Mike Ciotti were elected for the offensive side of the football. On defense, senior defensive back Jake Carner and junior linebacker Logan Taylor earned the honor.

Salem comes into the final week of the season after falling behind early in the first half in a 43-26 loss to Louisville. A traditional second half surge made things interesting, but couldn't quite bring the Quakers within striking distance.

West Branch meanwhile pulled off a big upset of top-ranked Marlington in week nine 35-14. The Warriors wanted to keep the Dukes in check on using the option and standout running back Dymonte Thomas.

"A lot of opponents that they played against were able to move the ball down the field but self destructed in the red zone," Dota said. "We had to come away with points. Defensively, we did everything possible to stop the option. When he (Thomas) lined up at wide receiver we wanted to stop the big play. I felt in all three-phases of the game we executed."

The Warriors have their own talenr to display at running backin Brenden Wells. The holder of multiple rushing records at West Branch, Wells broke the single game rushing record with 356 yards. The old mark of 259 yards by Joe Wilson stood for more than 40 years.

"We have a really good offensive line up front and that's helped him with a lot of the things he's accomplished," Dota said. "He's an explosive player he can change field position or the emotion of a game. He was able to do that for us in the games he played in."

The senior will have one more game to add to his career marks of 597 carries, 3,538 yards and 44 touchdowns tonight. Wells leads a run-heavy offense that the Quakers will likely get a steady diet of. When he doesn't carry the ball, it will be Troy James taking the handoffs who has rushed for 593 yards and 12 touchdowns this year.

"They have a bunch of guys they can to go with the football," Johnson said. "When you're as good as he (Wells) is, you're not going to stop him. You just want to be very physical with him and wear him out. By being physical you can get him to maybe come down to a normal ability level."

Rivalry games always involve some interesting twist. With two communities as close as Salem and Beloit, there are many overlapping similarities.

"There's a true rivalry that's there because of things in the past and a lot of people that live in now, or used to live in one or the other school districts," Dota said. "You know, people even have maybe married into one side or the other. It's very unique."

Johnson agreed.

"That's the beauty about rivalry games," he said. "It doesn't matter if you're 0-9 or 9-0," Johnson said.

Salem and West Branch will kickoff at 7 p.m. at Clinton Heacock Stadium.



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