SALEM - Friday night at Reilly Stadium, the Salem Quakers looked to do the improbable - upset the top ranked team in Ohio Div. III, Region 11.
After one quarter of play, momentum was on the Quakers' sideline and excitement was palpable in the bleachers.
Unfortunately for Salem, a promising start gave way to a Marlington run as the Dukes rattled off 41 unanswered points for a 41-10 win.
"We forced a great football team to make changes," Salem coach Ron Johnson said. "And anytime you do that, it's because you are executing well. I couldn't be more proud of the effort tonight."
Salem, typically the team plagued by turnovers in weeks' past, was able to take advantage of some early miscues by the Dukes.
After the Quakers first drive sputtered, the defense forced a fumble that Haedan Panezott fell on to give Salem the ball deep in Marlington territory.
On the Quakers first play from the 16-yard-line, Trace Jenkins dropped back and delivered a screen pass to Panezott. Panezott made the catch, wove his way through defenders and leapt into the end zone to give the Quakers their first lead in the past three weeks.
"We thought they might try and answer a sudden change with some pressure,: Johnson said. "We tried to use that (the screen) against their pressure and it worked out very well."
Panezott's catch and run was also a beneficiary of some key blocking on the play by Brendan Webb.
"He blocked a guy all the way through the back of the end zone with the ball coming behind him," Johnson said. "That was just a great effort by a wide receiver blocking."
On the ensuing kickoff, Salem's bread-and-butter special teams, specifically this time Thane Sevey, knocked the ball loose from the Dukes' Caleb Simmons, and the Quakers looked to be in business.
Forced with a fourth-and-long as a result of two long sacks by the Dukes defense, Salem coach Ron Johnson opted to go for a field goal from 40-yards out. Keaton O'Brien had enough leg and more as the kick sailed through the uprights to give the Quakers an early 10-0 lead after one quarter.
"We have an exceptional kicker in Keaton O'Brien," Johnson said. "He hit a 40-yard field goal and it still had ten or 15 more yards to go. That's a great weapon to have. We knew when they called their timeout that we were going to get points here."
On the season, O'Brien is 2-for-3 on field goal attempts.
But Marlington's potent offense and Michigan commit Dymonte Thomas wouldn't be held in check the entire night.
The Dukes rebounded with an eight play, 63-yard scoring drive that culminated when Thomas took a delayed handoff and found daylight up the middle to score from 25-yards out. Salem special teams struck again on the extra-point, blocking Austin Wade's PAT.
On the Quakers' next possession Salem made the decision to go for it on fourth-and-five just inside Marlington territory at the 42-yard-line that resulted in a turnover on downs when Jenkins' pass fell incomplete.
Taking advantage of the opportunity, Thomas and the Dukes marched methodically down the field to take the lead on a 14-yard run for the Marlington running back's second score of the quarter.
Marlington added another score just before the half on a six-yard touchdown pass from Shawn Kirk to Dan Krupko. Opting to go for two, Kirk was stopped on the attempt in the backfield.
As the second half progressed, Marlington began to flex it's muscles and displayed their quick-strike ability with a one-play drive, a 67-yard touchdown strike from Kirk to Jake Walker.
Kirk attempted just nine passes on the evening, completing six of them for 175 yards and three touchdowns.
"They just wore us down," Johnson said. "Physically we're just not where we need to be. If you look at those guys man-to-man across the board, they probably have an advantage at every position. We knew we couldn't go toe-to-toe, we just wanted to get matchups where we needed to win one battle in space."
Thomas plunged in for his third touchdown of the night from one-yard-out as the third quarter wound down to further extend the Dukes' lead.
Kirk aired it out to begin the fourth, connecting with Krupko again, this time for 57 yards and a score.
"Our guys played their tails off," Johnson said. "We had a couple guys taking every single snap. We played hard and they really played smart tonight. We're not where we want to be and certainly not where we're going to be, but we're working, and this is going to be a special place."