SALEM - Fighting for .500, the Salem Quakers knew they couldn't end 2011 with a winning record. Ending it with a win, however, was a different matter entirely.
On Senior Night, the Salem seniors stepped, turning away rival West Branch, 27-7, in the season finale at Reilly Stadium.
"I'm just so happy for our kids, especially our seniors," Salem coach Mike Kopachy said. "We ended the season with a win and we beat West Branch for the third-straight year and we battled through and competed in the NBC."
It was definitely the seniors' show. Senior running back Austin Noel ran for 206 yards and four scores behind an offensive line anchored by senior two-way starters Steve Manypenny, Devon Bell and James Norkus. Senior receiver Zach Penick broke Salem's career-reception record and recovered a fumble. Senior tight end Ryan Eisel had a momentum-shifting interception and senior linebacker Jordan Pierce had two sacks and a fumble recovery.
Noel's 206 yards gives him 1,289 on the season.
"Austin is just a great athlete and a great kid," Kopachy said. "He'll be the first to credit his offensive line. Not only did he run for over 200 yards, but he also had to defend No. 16 (Scott Muckleroy) all night. He came in as West Branch's leading receiver and I don't think he one catch all night. Austin did a great job tonight and a great job all year. We're going to miss him."
Penick's record-breaking catch came just as time experienced in the game. With 1:39 to play, he still needed two catches to surpass Ben Eisel's 130 receptions and West Branch had a the ball. Those last two receptions were made possible when Warriors fumbled. Ironically, it was Penick who jumped on the loose ball. Penick then caught back-to-back 1-yard passes to rewrite the record books.
"I was so happy we were able to get Zack the catches he needed at the end," Kopachy said. "He's a good kid. These are all good kids and they all stepped up. I couldn't be prouder."
The Quakers stepped up early. Less than two minutes into the game, Noel scored from 19 yards out. That TD run capped off a six-play, 65-yard drive.
Noel would run 24 yards for his second at 11:16 of the second quarter. That drive covered 80-yards.
The Quakers took the 14-0 lead into the half and seemed to finally shake off the offensive woes that had plagued them all season. Finally Salem finished drives.
The Warriors were not as fortunate. The West Branch offense, which defeated Louisville in Week 8 and came within a point of upsetting Marlington in Week 9, stalled at crucial times and couldn't take advantage of red zone opportunities.
"We had chances in the first half, but couldn't finish," West Branch coach D.J. Dota said. "We could move the ball. We moved the ball all night but we just couldn't punch it in from their red zone. We just didn't click tonight they way we have been the last couple of weeks. And our defense gave up two many big plays. We have to give our offense a chance at least."
The Warriors only TD of the night came in the third when Jake Mull rushed in from the 5. West Branch soon found themselves in position to tie the game when Allen Hurst picked off Manypenny on fake punt. The Warriors took over on the Salem 40, but two plays later were back on defense following Eisel's interception.
Noel would break free on an 82-yard touchdown with 5:18 remaining in the game and score 19 yards out with 3:34 on the clock to account for his other TDs.
The Quakers outdid the Warriors in offense, racking up 362 - including 276 on the ground - to West Branch's 182. Junior quarterback Jake Carner was 9-of-15 for 48 yards. He also kept the ball 11 times for 60 more yards. Pierce added two carries for 10. Penick had seven receptions for 38 yards.
For West Branch, QB Troy James completed just 3-of-11 attempts for 21 yards. He also threw his eighth pick of the season. On the ground, Jake Mull led with 72, James added 40 and Tyler Pidgeon had 39. Junior standout Brenden Wells, who needed 97 yards to set a new rushing record at West Branch, finished with just four yards on three carries after sitting out the second half. Wells came into the final game banged up after a three-touchdown performance against the Dukes.
"We're not going to make excuses," Dota said. "We just didn't have that click tonight that we had over the last few weeks. Obviously, this is not the way we wanted to end our season but we took some steps forward."
The Warriors wrap up the season at 4-6.