SALEM - The halfway point of the high school football season arrives this Friday. With the Salem Quakers record currently at 0-4, the playoffs are likely out of the picture. But don't tell head coach Ron Johnson that there's nothing to play for.
"We're playing because we have the opportunity to play," Johnson said. "So many people out there don't have the opportunity to play this game, or chose not to play this game. To have this chance, you need to take full advantage of it."
Friday night the Quakers have the opportunity of welcoming a third undefeated team in as many weeks to Reilly Stadium. Something that Ron Johnson and his squad are becoming all too familiar with and relish the chance to do.
"We're really excited about getting the opportunity to play against another good football team and one of the finest players in the country in Dymonte Thomas," he said.
The Dukes are leading their respective region with the most recent release of the OHSAA weekly computer rankings. Last week, Thomas ran to the tune of 309 yards on 24 carries in a 34-24 win over Louisville.
Quarterback Shawn Kirk chipped in with another 120 yards on 21 carries.
Both backs key a running game that averages 255 yards a game. Stopping the run has been an area of trouble for the Quakers defense.
"Dymonte is going to line up at about six different places on offense, a couple different places on defense," he said.
Knowing where Thomas is on the field is a given, but Johnson also cautioned about forgetting about other play-makers for the Dukes.
"The same goes with that quarterback they have," he said. "The best things we can do to control that is to maintain possession of the ball. If we can shorten the game by maintaining the football and churning out yards and getting first downs to keep them off the field that's the best way to limit them offensively."
Offensively, Salem has been plagued by turnovers and penalties - self-inflicted wounds that have caused an offense that at times has proven it can move the football to sputter.
Attention to detail will be a given to what makes the offense click when it's working - a fast pace.
"I think that's when we're at our best - we go out there, we're on a roll and get momentum and we play at a very fast pace," Johnson said. "When we sit back and think and slow down, that's when I don't know if doubt sets in or other teams can then lock in on us, but at that fast tempo is where we tend to do things the best."
The Dukes also boast a stingy defense, allowing just less than 14 points and a shade more than 220 yards of offense. It's yet another daunting task for a group littered with inexperience.
Starting two freshmen and a sophomore on the offensive line, and a sophomore at quarterback would be considered young at any level.
"The thing is, there's no substitute for experience, none," Johnson said. "And the fact that they're getting ten games under their belt this year, they're going to have all of this experience to recall and rely on during games in the future."
Special teams play for Salem has proved to be the team's most consistent facet, routinely setting up the offense with good field position, or its opponent backed up in their own end.
"That's one of our priorities, special teams and we really put a lot of emphasis on it," Johnson said. "We spend a lot of time game planning it, we spend a lot of time practicing it.
That big play threat could very much come from Salem's talented group of position players.
"We keep trying to devise things to get our kids in those spaces and time to distribute the ball," Johnson said. "We move Marcus around a lot, we move Haedan around a lot. We try to get those guys in different places to create different match-ups and give them opportunities to make plays."
Plays that the Quakers will most certainly need when Salem and Marlington square off Friday night at 7 p.m. at Reilly Stadium.
"We're getting close here, we're going to pop one and take it to the house and the place is going to erupt."