ALLIANCE - Six games into the season, defense has been the name of the game for the Salem Quakers. Last week, the Quakers earned their first shutout of the season when they turned away NBC opponent Canton South 17-0 at Reilly Stadium. Tonight, as Salem prepares to travel to Mount Union Stadium to take on the Alliance Aviators, head coach Mike Kopachy is looking for more from his offense.
"I've said all year, defense is definitely our strong suit, but I think our offense is capable of much more than we've shown," Kopachy said. "At the same time we can't get too frustrated. Our offense is very capable. We just need that killer instinct to put a team away. When we get into the red zone, we need to come up with a touchdown. And that takes a collective effort. It's just not our quarterback or our running backs or our offensive line. It takes everybody doing their jobs."
The Quakers enter tonight's game at 4-2. Salem opened the season with a loss to LaBrae (21-7) before putting together three-straight wins with victories over United (24-7), Niles McKinley (7-3) and its first-ever NBC opponent Carrollton (34-17). The Quakers suffered a setback in Week 5 with a loss at Marlington (42-7) before rebounding with last week's win over the Wildcats.
Alliance also stands at 4-2. The Aviators dropped a 17-12 decision to Canton Central in Week 1. They went on to win their next four, defeating Fairless (44-14), St. Thomas Aquinas (32-23), West Branch (55-26) and Canton South (49-21). Last week, Alliance lost to Louisville (43-14).
Offensively, Alliance has proven to be balanced with 865 passing yards and 1,065 on the ground. Senior quarterback Taurice Scott has thrown for all 860 of those yards, completing 63-of-133 attempts. He has three interceptions and nine touchdowns. The senior playmaker has kept the ball 77 times for 701 rushing yards and five more scores.
"They (Alliance) have a very talented quarterback," Kopachy said. "Taurice Scott is like a right-handed Michael Vick. He's very elusive and athletic and he has a good arm. They also have two good receivers (Jalen Mays and Vernon Martin) who are both basketball stars. They are athletic and have good speed. As a team, Alliance has pretty good speed and they have an offense that could give us fits."
Martin has caught 20 passes for 419 yards. Mays has 18 receptions for 241 yards. In addition to Martin and Mays, Nathan Rice has 99 yards receiving.
"We have to put pressure on their quarterback," Kopachy said. "If we can contain him we have a pretty good shot at winning. We need to make him uncomfortable in the pocket, make him throw some errant passes and keep him frustrated. "
Defensively, the Aviators are all blitz. All the time.
"They are man to man all the time and they like to blitz on almost every play," Kopachy said. "They come at you and from different angles. And they're fast defensively and even more fast when they play on the turf at their home field. It'll be a challenge."
The Quakers like the Aviators have been balanced. Junior QB Jake Carner is 61-of-102 with five TDs and two picks. Senior running back Austin Noel has rushed 124 times for 697 yards and six scores. Senior Zach Penick has a team-high 357 receiving yards on 30 receptions. Sophomore Marcus Crittenden has 17 for 238 and two touchdowns.
For all their efforts, the Quakers are yet to reach their potential offensively and have stalled deep in their opponents' territory game after game. Flags, the occasional turnover and inability to make a play when needed have killed drives and left the Salem defense having to keep Kopachy's team in the game.
"We have to have discipline and not have a player hold or jump offsides," Kopachy said. "We can't afford to give up free yards to a team like Alliance. We have to turn out long drives and finish them. We can't keep relying on our defense."
E-mail Stephanie Elverd at firstname.lastname@example.org