MINERAL?RIDGE - No one was more upset a coldfront moved in early Thursday night than Salem coach Ron Johnson.
He knew his Quakers were going up against Division VII football team in Mineral Ridge in which most of its starters were playing on both sides of the football.
Salem, on the other hand, a Division IV member, was able to bring in an entire new offense and defense. Thus, the gameplan for Johnson was to wear down the smaller Rams, and it worked, just not as well as he hoped.
"I do wish it would've stayed 85 and humid," Johnson said. "It got a little chilly tonight."
The bus ride home was probably nice and cozy.
Salem shut down Mineral Ridge and slowly but surely wore down the Rams' defense in a season-opening 28-7 victory at E.Z. Whittaker Field.
The fatigue of playing both ways seemed to be most evident up front, where Salem (1-0) held an obvious size advantage. The men in the trenches were the main reason the Rams (0-1) mustered just 34 rushing yards on 27 carries.
"There's no doubt that had an effect," said Mineral Ridge coach Jeff Whittaker about Salem being able to have one-way players. "It did take a toll on us. Toward the latter part of the game, we physically started to get worn down."
Toward the end is when Salem pulled away.
The Quakers took a 13-0 lead on a 2-yard run by running back Kade Byland and a 21-yard pass from quarterback Matt Weingart to Byland, who ran a wheel route and walked into the end zone. A safety put Salem up 15-0 in the third quarter, but penalties squandered several opportunities for the Quakers to add on to the lead.
Byland appeared to be put the game out of reach with a 4-yard run with 7:17 left, giving Salem a 21-0 lead. The Rams struck back on the next drive as Mac White launched a 60-yard pass to running back Sam Kooeyman, who rumbled down to the 5-yard line. He punched it in for a touchdown two plays later, but there was only 4 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in the game, so Mineral Ridge had to attempt an onside kick. The attempt went off a Salem player, but one of his teammates quickly corralled the ball.
Two plays later, Quaker running back Cooper Bezeredi made a nice cutback and scampered 37 yards for a touchdown that removed all doubt.
"The line held up pretty good up front - I had a lot of time," said Weingart, who was sharp in connecting on 13 of 19 passes for 124 yards. "We started out slow, but we got it going at the end."
The Salem defense was as solid as the offense, which ran for 199 yards and passed for 124. The 'D' held the Rams to 144 total yards and had a shutout for 43 minutes of the game.
Whittaker said an inability to sustain drives played a role in the tiring of the defense, which made several big stops in side the red zone to keep the game close.
"I thought we played pretty darn good defense," he said. "We had some outstanding defensive plays. They had 57 plays at half, we had 17. You can't let a team have the ball that much. Their asset tonight was their defense. They kept our offense off the field. It was supposed to work the other way, but it didn't work that way because we didn't do enough offensively."
S Kade Byland 2 run (kick failed)
S Byland 21 pass from Matt Weingart (Andrew Pasco kick)
S Safety (Jesse Slocum sack of Mac White)
S Byland 4 run (Kick failed)
MR Sam Kooeyman 2 run (Tracy Cross kick)
S Cooper Bezeredi 37 run (Braydon Gibson kick)
RUSHING: Salem, Kade Byland 17-77, Cooper Bezeredi 6-81, Trace Jenkins 3-15, Matt Weingart 6-12, Zach Kusick 1-4, Corey Griffith 1-2; Mineral Ridge, Sam Kooeyman 16-15, Nick Ferguson 4-9, Mac White 6-(-4).
PASSING: Salem, Weingart 13-19-0-124; Mineral Ridge, White 9-13-1-110.
RECEIVING: Salem, Blake Hochadel 5-50, Bezeredi 3-42, Byland 3-25, Jesse Slocum 1-3, Jake Humenuik 1-1; Mineral Ridge, Sam Kooeyman 4-78, Travis Rose 2-18, Devin Ritchie 1-6, Johnnathan Bourgoin 1-7, Nick Ferguson 1-2.