SALEM - Down 34-0 to Niles McKinley last Friday, Salem head football coach Ron Johnson challenged his team at half-time to step up its game.
The young Quakers responded, and although the hole was too big to climb out of to pull off a comeback against the Red Dragons, Salem was left with plenty of positives headed into this week. The Quakers are still looking to capture their first win of the season and Johnson-era entering Northeastern Buckeye Conference play as they play host to Carrollton.
"We played our best 24 minutes of the year in the second half Friday night," Johnson said. "We got re-focused, we executed better, and we're going to use that momentum headed into this week."
Salem shored up all aspects of its game in that span and posted 23 second-half points - a good sign considering the Warriors have given up just 30 points in three games this year including a shutout.
"Their defense is very, very good," Johnson said. "Their defensive coordinator John Cox was on our staff when I was at McKinley. They have two outstanding corners, and that gives them the freedom to do some things because they can shut you down man-to-man and send more guys at you."
Carrollton is hoping for a breakout season. The Warriors have already surpassed their win total from a season ago and would like nothing better than to start the season 4-0 with a league win on the road.
Last week, Carrollton came from behind for a 14-7 win over Claymont when quarterback Zade Deitz scored the winning touchdown with 7:25 left.
In addition to the athletic play of Deitz, Carrollton sports an impressive duo in the backfield in Tyler Dodd and Jake Peterson. Dodd has a team-leading 356 yards and seven touchdowns. Peterson averages 13.6 yards per carry.
"They're big up front on the offensive line," Johnson said. "Their quarterback is young but very athletic and has made plays this year. Whenever you have that it's always a concern."
What hasn't been a concern for Johnson is the Quakers' motivation. Despite the 0-3 start, Salem hasn't wavered in doing all the things necessary to improve with each practice. Johnson said coaching this group has been a blessing.
"Our guys are so anxious to learn football and so willing to do whatever it takes to improve, it's been a pleasure to coach them," he said. "They've been very excited to practice every day because of the relationships we have and because of the direction the program is headed. We're playing for a league championship, and we're looking at it that we're lucky enough to have seven league championship games."
Carrollton and Salem kick-off at 7 p.m. at Reilly Stadium.
"We're gonna play it with that intensity and focus we ended last week with," Johnson said.