Quakers are a close team
SALEM — The Salem football team has seen enough do-or-die situations this season, that it surely won’t be fazed if Saturday’s Div. IV first-round playoff game goes down the wire.
The Quakers, who are at 14th-ranked Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy (7-3) at 7 p.m. Saturday, have had their mettle tested by six games that were decided by single- digit margins.
According to coach Ron Johnson, resilience is what has defined his team’s postseason run.
“This team has a throwback mentality,” Johnson said. “They are going to play every single play as hard as they can for the full 48 minutes. Lo and behold, that mindset has allowed us to pull out a lot of close games.”
The drama for the Quakers started in the very first week, when the defense made a late stand deep inside its own territory in the final minute to hang on for a four-point win over Crestview.
After hanging on for an eight-point win over United in week two, the Salem defense again came up with a last-minute stop to beat East Liverpool 20-14 in week three.
The next week, a clutch 75-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter delivered the Quakers a two-point win over Carrollton. Last ditch comebacks brought Salem within one possession late in losses to Marlington and Alliance.
“Nobody ever quits on this team when things get tough,” Salem senior linebacker Tyson Swiger said. “Everybody does their job and sticks together. Eleven guys have played as one on each side of the ball all season.”
After the Alliance loss in week seven put Salem in precarious playoff position, the Quakers have been operating with a back-against-the-wall mentality every week. They took care of business with three straight victories to ensure themselves the chance to extend their season.”
“We’ve done a great job all season of staying focused week-to-week and only worrying about what we can control,” Salem senior linebacker Anthony DiMuzio said. “Our mindset is always to go 1-0 every week. I think that’s really helped us late in the year.”
At the beginning of the season, Johnson knew he had two rock-solid building blocks in senior three-year starters Cade Campolito and Niko Walter. What he wasn’t certain about was how the Quakers were going to fill in some of the gaps around them.
“We really didn’t know how we were going to be because we had so many first-year seniors playing,” Johnson said. “We had a lot of guys we were counting on this year that hadn’t seen a varsity football field before. Guys like Anthony DiMuzio, Jacob Monigold, Dylan Sinkovich and Bradlee Kitts have done an outstanding job.”
Johnson said the Quakers have developed the identity of a gritty, single-minded team where nobody complains about their roles.
“”Our resolve has been there all season,” Johnson said. “People don’t give kids credit anymore for caring, for taking things seriously and putting their heart and soul into it. That’s what we’ve done. Everyone has bought in and nobody has shown a sense of entitlement. I couldn’t be more pleased.”
“I knew we had a team capable of making the playoffs, it was just a matter of everyone staying together and doing their jobs week-in-and-week-out,” Salem senior defensive lineman Zach Murray said. “Everything has come together.”
The Quakers will encounter a well-rounded CVCA team on Saturday that doesn’t have many glaring weaknesses according to Johnson.
“They are fundamentally sound across the board,” Johnson said. “They are not going to blow coverages or give up a cheap play. Their defensive backs are 6-foot-4, 6-3 and 6-2. They cover a lot of ground, we’re going to have tighter windows to throw the ball into.”
The Royals went 7-3 overall and 5-2 in the Principals Athletic Conference. Their losses came to Div. V playoff qualifiers Orrville (the defending state champion) and Akron Manchester as well as Div. III unbeaten Aurora.
“Overall, I would say on film they look like the best team we’ve played this year,” DiMuzio said. “They probably remind me of Marlington the most.”
On offense, the Royals are led by dual-threat junior quarterback Michael Bevington, who has run for 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns to go with 1,069 passing yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. Senior running back Shane Douglas and 6-4 senior wideout Austen Williams are the other main threats.
“They don’t run many plays, but they run them out of a ton of different formations,” Johnson said. “They have a couple of guys (Douglas and Williams) that they really want to get the ball to and the quarterback (Bevington) is the key. He can hurt you in a lot of different ways.”
“Their quarterback (Bevington) is a really good athlete,” Swiger said. “We have to be gap-sound and make open field tackles. That’s what the game is going to come down to.”
The Quakers will counter the Royals with an offense that features freshman quarterback Jackson Johnson, who has posted an impressive 78 percent completion percentage and 13 touchdowns since taking over for Niko Walter in week eight.
Walter has moved to wideout and given the Quakers a dynamic threat to go with Blaize Exline and DiMuzio. Cade Campolito anchors the ground game with 1,019 yards rushing.
“They have a lot of skilled players, but we do, too,” Murray said. “We’ll see how it plays out. We just want to keep playing together as long as possible.”
• CVCA is hosting the first playoff game in school history. The program has been to the playoffs eight times and is still searching for its first victory.
• The Royals strength of sechedule was ranked seventh in Div. IV according to Drew Pasteur’s Fantastic 50 website. The combined record of their opponents was 59-41.