Quakers, Warriors throw out records

SALEM – The day after the last Salem-West Branch football game, both teams start preparing for the next one.

“It’s a year-long rivalry,” Salem coach Ron Johnson said. “Every sport takes it seriously.”

“It’s always talked about,” West Branch coach D.J. Dota said. “Our kids talk more about that and Louisville. It’s a good rivalry.”

The backyard rivals will close out the 2013 regular season with their 42nd meeting tonight at Reilly Stadium.

“It’s important to everybody who is a senior,” Salem linebacker Logan Taylor said. “It is at home against our biggest rival, so everybody is going to want to get that one.”

“It is special because Salem always brings their A game to the West Branch game,” West Branch senior lineman Logan Sharp said.

Johnson, in his second year at Salem, counts down the days to the next West Branch games like he did for Massillon during his four years as head coach at Canton McKinley.

“That one is in a class by itself, but I have had some other good ones,” Johnson said. “This one is right up there with those – because it is a 365-day through process with us and always at the forefront.”

The rivalry started soon after West Branch school district was formed in 1960. The Warriors played their home games at Reilly Stadium for 11 years until moving onto their own field in 1971.

The teams played every year from 1964 to 1986 until the series was discontinued after a fight.

“I hear about that fight all the time,” Dota said.

The rivalry reached its heighth in the early 1980s as the Quakers and Warriors played in their traditional season finale.

Salem pulled off a stunning 17-7 upset in 1985 to stop West Branch’s bid for the school’s first unbeaten season. Emotions overflowed the next year during West Branch’s 21-0 win as the Warriors became the first area team to advance to the state playoffs.

“It’s a big deal every year,” Sharp said. “I know when my father (Rodger Sharp) played there was a big brawl that happened. They actually canceled the rivalry and weren’t allowed to play for a while.”

After a cooling off period, the teams resumed the rivalry with the 1993 season opener. In 1994, West Branch pulled out a 28-21 overtime win on the way to the Division III state championship.

“Since then there hasn’t been any big fights,” Sharp said. “There’s been some trash talk on the field, that’s been about it.”

The teams have played every year since 1993, except for 2000 due to a scheduling conflict. West Branch holds a 24-17 advantage in the series.

The game has taken on more importance since Salem joined West Branch in the Northeastern Buckeye Conference in 2011.

Last year, West Branch came into the game trying to wrap up sole possession of its first NBC title in 11 years.

“It was a close game last year,” Taylor said. “It was a one touchdown game and it could have went either way.”

Salem – which hasn’t won a game since beating West Branch, 27-7, in the 2011 season finale – gave the Warriors all they could handle. West Branch pulled out a 21-13 win at Heacock Stadium.

“Last year, they were 0-9 and came into our house and we ended up winning the NBC championship by a touchdown,” Sharp said. “You just never know what they’re going to do against West Branch.”

Salem is 2-7 on the season and has lost its last seven games, while West Branch is 1-8.

“It doesn’t matter what the records are, you’ve got to be ready for a physically demanding game,” Dota said.

Win or lose, the game is fun for all.

“It’s a great game to have,” Dota said.