The two-time defending state football champion Salem Spartans are alive and well. The locals survived a 33-32 thriller in Blacksburg last Friday to win the regional championship, and they’ll host Sherando High this Saturday at 2 pm in the state Class 4 semifinal.
Salem comes in as the Region 4 champion and Sherando, a worthy opponent, will wear the Region 3 belt. The Warriors beat Liberty of Bealton, 33-21, in Bealton last week to avenge one of their two prior losses in a season that finds them 11-2. Sherando lost to Liberty, 31-28, on September 28 and their other loss was to Martinsburg of West Virginia, also by a score of 31-28, a week later.
The Spartans are also 11-2, and these two teams have had very similar seasons. Both were 3-2 after five games and come into this week’s game on an eight game win streak. They have no common opponents, but have met twice before in post season games that went down to the wire.
In 1996 Salem High won its first state championship with a 20-12 win over Sherando at since demolished Victory Stadium in Roanoke. The Willis White coached Spartans put on a goal line stand in the final minutes to seal the deal, stoning the Warriors from the one yard line to preserve the win.
The two met again 17 years later, in 2013, in the state semifinal in Stephens City. This time it was Sherando providing the late game defense for a 7-0 win over the Spartans, who were in the red zone in the final minute but were unable to get into the end zone.
If this one is anything like those two, Saturday’s expected large crowd is in for some excitement. The winner will be in Williamsburg on December 9 to play the winner of this week’s game between Region A champ Lafayette(12-1) and Region B champ Louisa County(13-0). That game will be hosted by Louisa in Mineral, VA.
“Sherando runs a good program,” said Salem coach Stephen Magenbauer, who was at the helm when the Spartans lost in Stephens City four years ago. That was the last time Salem did not make the state championship game.
“They have a lot of pride and they’re well coached,” Magenbauer continued. “They have great fan support. I expect they’ll bring a ton of people.”
The Warriors have a high scoring offense, as you’d expect at this time of the year. They scored 77 points in a win over Broadway, 59 against Handley, 58 against James Wood and 50 against Loudoun Valley.
“They run a lot of formations,” said Magenbauer. “They make you play disciplined football. We’re going to have to be smart on defense, and they’ll make you work on offense. They’re a sound defensive team.”
Salem comes into the game on a roll. In addition to winning eight straight the Spartans have defeated the number one and two seeds in a tough Region D over the past two weeks. Last Friday the Spartans avenged one of their only two losses with what many would call an upset on David Crist Field in Blacksburg.
Two months ago, almost to the day, Salem was humbled in Blacksburg, 49-12. It was the only time the Spartans lost a game where the clock was running continuously since the Virginia High School League initiated that rule. Neither team had lost a game since that day when the two met last Friday, but this time the Spartans came out on top.
“We got better as a team in those two months,” said Magenbauer. “We weren’t ready to go home last week. It was a fun game to be a part of.”
The Spartans struck first on a four yard run by De’Angelo Ramsey. Cole Beck, who shredded the Salem defense in the first meeting, answered with a three yard TD run on the last play of the quarter. The extra point was blocked by Joseph Quinn and the Spartans held on to a 7-6 lead after one period.
Salem quarterback Jack Gladden hit Viante Tucker with a 49 yard TD pass to increase the lead to 14-6 in the second quarter, only to have Beck score again on a nine yard run. Blacksburg went for two, and failed, and it was 14-12. Then the Spartans increased their lead to 21-12 when Gladden passed to Avery Close for a 13 yard score and that’s how it stood at the half.
The second half was played without the time being displayed on the scoreboard clock, which picked a bad time to fail. It didn’t seem to bother the Bruins, who scored 20 unanswered points in the third quarter, all by Beck, on 54 and 11 yard runs and a 52 yard pass play from Bruin quarterback Grant Johnston.
Down 32-21 with 12 minutes to play, the Spartans didn’t panic. Salem got six back when Gladden threw his third TD pass, and second to Close, covering 42 yards. The Spartans went for two to try and cut the lead to three points but failed, and the Bruins were hanging on at 32-27.
Salem’s defense hunkered down at this point, stopping Blacksburg twice as the clock wound down, although fans from both sides weren’t sure how much. There was just over five minutes left when the Spartans took over at the Blacksburg 44 following a poor punt, and on second down Ramsey hurdled through the line, found some daylight and raced 39 yards to the end zone to put Salem ahead by a point. Again a two-point conversion attempt failed, but a one point lead was all Salem would need as the defense closed out an exciting win.
Ramsey finished with 187 yards rushing on 29 carries, while Tae Hale had 68 on 13. Gladden, who is playing his best in the playoffs, was seven for 13 passing for 176 yards and he has nine touchdown passes in the three postseason games. Tucker had three catches for 82 yards, Close had two, both touchdowns, for 55 and Quinn and Hale had one catch apiece.
On defense Chandler Sutphin led the team with 13 tackles, including one for a loss. Close and Nick Wade had eight each, Van Richardson had seven and Austin Kirtner had six tackles. Wade, Kirtner and Nick Anthony all had fumble recoveries.
This week’s game is scheduled for 2 pm at Salem Stadium, and it’s the first Saturday game of the year for the Spartans. Tickets are $10 each and can be purchased in advance at Salem High from 10:40 am until 1 pm Friday.
“It’s always fun to be playing at this time of the season and it’s great to be in front of the home crowd,” said Magenbauer.