SALEM - When it comes to Salem vs. West Branch, pick your cliche.
Throw the record books out the window. This game is for bragging rights. Can't hold anything back. Leave it all on the field. Play for pride. Take no prisoners. No love lost.
You get the idea.
In the classic rivalries of the Mahoning Valley, however, nearly all of the used and abused cliches apply when the Quakers meet the Warriors.
In the 2011 edition, the game carries with it a new significance given it's the first meeting between the schools as a member of the same league in the Northeastern Buckeye Conference.
"You can see in our seniors eyes the end is near," Salem head coach Mike Kopachy said. "They want to go out on top, and what better team to go out on top against then West Branch. This is a big game that a lot of people care about. It's a big deal to a lot of people."
The same sentiment rings true in Beloit where the Warriors enter the contest having lost two straight to their route 62 rival.
"You hear it everywhere," West Branch head coach D.J. Dota said. "It's an important game for our guys and the whole community."
That the game comes in week 10 makes the rivalry even more intense according to the coaches.
"There's a whole lot more on the line now," Dota said. "I said in the beginning of the year it could be a playoff berth, or a 5-5 record, or a spoiler game. It's a bigger advantage to play the game in week 10. There's more meaning behind it."
"Whether we were headed into this game 9-0 or 0-9, with the game being in week 10 it gives you that incentive to knock off a rival," he said. "Being that it is when it is, so much is at stake. There's the momentum going into the off-season, sending the seniors off with a win, a .500 season. We've been coaching this game like it's our playoff game and like it's our state championship."
Both squads sport 4-5 records on the season but took different paths getting to that mark. Salem was the quick starter winning three of its first four, while the Warriors lost three of their first four. Salem has managed just one win after its 3-1 start and that came back in September against Canton South. The Warriors on the other hand beat Louisville for the first time in 13 tries and nearly upset Marlington last week.
"We've had big games the last three weeks," Dota said. "It's kind of prepared us for this week. We've played really well the last few weeks, and I like that we're improving each week. That's the only thing we can control. I don't think much has changed because there's just as much on the line. We have to take care of business."
On paper the squads are as evenly matched as their records would indicate. Both teams bring in 1,000-yard rushers in Austin Noel (1,083) and Brenden Wells (1,362). Both teams have the ability to go to the air as well with Jake Carner (85-of-146, 874 yards, 6-5 ratio) and Troy James (76-of-133, 841 yards, 6-7 ratio).
As with all things Salem vs. West Branch, and to sum it up with yet another cliche, it's going to come down to who wants it more.
"It's been a big buildup this week," Kopachy said. "We just want to get out and play. This game is going to make either of our seasons. It's our Super Bowl."
Salem hosts West Branch 7 p.m. Friday at Reilly Stadium.
E-mail B.J. Lisko at email@example.com