By Brian Hoffman
The first Virginia High School League football rankings of the season were released on Tuesday and the Salem Spartans are second in Region 4D. The Spartans will try to improve their lot when they host Pulaski County for Homecoming at Salem Stadium this Friday.
Orange County is currently on top with a 4-0 record and a rating of 24.50. The Hornets are members of the Jefferson District and they’re playing 6-0 Louisa County this Friday, so an Orange County win should keep them on top. Salem is close behind at 4-1 with a ranking of 24.16, while Louisa is third at 23.66 and Amherst is fourth at 23.60, also undefeated at 5-0. Pulaski is currently eighth with a 3-2 record and a rating of 19.8.
The Cougars, under first year coach Cam Akers, were expected to have a rebuilding year this season after finishing 4-6 last year and failing to make the playoffs. However, they’ve started out 3-2 with wins over Northside, Bluefield of West Virginia and Hidden Valley while falling to Tennessee High and Cave Spring.
Regardless of the records, the Salem and Pulaski game is always one to look forward to. The Spartans hold a 30-19 overall edge in the all-time series and have won the last 13 in a row, dating back to 2011. They’ve met in the playoffs six times, the last time being in 2012, and Salem is 4-2 in those games. Salem won 55-6 in Dublin last year, the most lopsided win in a series that goes back to Salem High’s first season in 1977.
“They’re getting back to doing some of the things they used to do,” said Salem coach Don Holter, who enjoyed games against the Cougars as a player at Salem High when Willis White coached the Spartans and Joel Hicks was coach at Pulaski. “Salem and Pulaski are two communities that are passionate about their football. They both have blue collar kids who like to win.”
The weather is expected to be in the 70s and clear this Friday, which is a far cry from last Friday’s game in Christiansburg when the Spartans took a 6-0 win over the host Blue Demons in a driving rain storm. A strong wind all but negated the passing game as SHS quarterback DaRonWilson put the pig in the air just six times, completing two passes for a net one yard.
The first half was scoreless as both teams tried to find something that would work on offense. Salem finally got a drive going in the third period and punched in a TD on a five yard run by Peyton Lewis for a 6-0 lead, as the two-point conversion attempt failed.
The Spartan faithful who sat through the miserable weather got a little nervous in the fourth quarter. The Demons stopped Salem on downs on the Spartan 28 with just under two minutes to go and the Demons failed to convert when they had a man open in the end zone on a pass play.
“They got behind us twice and on a dry night that’s six points both times,” said Holter.
But it wasn’t a dry night and Salem escaped with a win against a good Christiansburg team, and learned some lessons about overcoming adversity in the process.
“We needed a game like that,” said Holter. “We have to learn to keep our focus when it’s not a perfect situation.”
Salem finished with 128 total yards rushing, led by Lewis with 88. Jayveon Jones had 25 yards and Wilson ran for 15, but the longest run of the night by a Spartan was when Wilson picked up 11.
On defense, Jaelyn Allen had 11 tackles to lead the team while Ryan Coe and Lewis had nine each and Wilson Rakes had eight. Chris Cole recovered two fumbles on a wet night and Isaiah Barlow had one fumble recovery.
Salem is now 2-0 in River Ridge District games with four district games remaining in the regular season. They end the regular season at Patrick Henry and that could be a big one for points, as the Patriots are 4-1 and they’re a Class 5 team.
As mentioned, this week’s game is Homecoming and most football coaches hate Homecoming week and the distractions it can bring.
“It’s only a distraction if you allow it to be,” said Holter. “The kids have to understand why there’s a Homecoming and a dance. All these things exist because there’s a football game, so that should be their main focus.”
The Salem jayvees lost for the first time last week, falling to Christiansburg 15-13. The jayvees are at Pulaski tonight.