The first time Salem and Christiansburg played a football game it wasn’t settled until after three overtime periods, and it was close to 11 pm before the Spartans headed home. This time, the team that loses will head home for the season.
Salem will play host to Christiansburg in the Region IV, Division 4 championship game this Friday night at Salem Stadium, beginning at 7:30 pm. It will be a rematch of a regular season game in Christiansburg that saw the Spartans take an exciting 45-43 triple overtime thriller.
“It should be a battle,” said Salem coach Stephen Magenbauer. “We going to have to figure out a way to contain some of that speed.”
Salem trailed 20-14 at the half in the first meeting, the only time the Spartans have been behind at halftime all season. The Demons scored first in the second half to go up 27-14, but after that the Salem defense stiffened and shut down Christiansburg until the overtime sequence. The Demons scored in each overtime period, but lost the game when Salem converted a two-point extra in the third period and Christiansburg was stuffed at the goal line on their two-point try. Ironically Salem was not going for two, but was able to convert when Bud Tolliver gathered in a fumbled snap and passed to Zach Houchin in the end zone.
Even without the overtime, the 27 points Christiansburg scored in regulation was the most points scored against Salem in a game this season. The Demons out-gained the Spartans on the ground and overall for the game. Magenbauer has had some time to adjust, but good coaches continue the chess match as the game progresses.
“I’m sure both teams will make some adjustments,” he said. “Good teams will continue to run their offense, but maybe do a couple things differently.”
Salem was at Christiansburg the first time, but this week the Spartans have the advantage of playing at home. It should be a great crowd at Salem Stadium, as this is one of those games where area fans who like good football will show up, and not just fans of the two teams involved.
“It’s always nice to play at the stadium,” said Magenbauer. “The kids feel comfortable there, and it’s a great place to play.”
Christiansburg has had to win two playoff games to get this far. The Blue Demons were the third seed in the Region IV, Division 4 playoffs and had to play a first round game while Salem had a night off. The Demons beat up on Bassett, 48-6, churning out almost 400 yards of rushing against the Bengals.
Last week Christiansburg played at Hidden Valley, the second seed. The Titans won at Christiansburg the first time around, 28-21, and that was Christiansburg’s first loss of the season after a 6-0 start. Last week, however, the Demons turned the tables on the Titans with a 28-3 win over Hidden Valley at Bogle Field.
If the Spartans don’t want to suffer the same fate as Hidden Valley, they might have to play better than they did last week in a 14-7 win over Magna Vista at Salem Stadium. The Spartans scored with 31 seconds on the board to break a 7-7 tie and deny the Warriors’ bid for an upset.
“That was just a good high school football playoff game,” said Magenbauer. “They have a good team. They were very athletic, and we didn’t help ourselves with all those penalties.”
Salem had an uncharacteristic nine penalties for 81 yards. Included was a stretch of back-to-back defensive series’ where the Spartans were called three times for grabbing the facemask and once for a personal foul.
“I didn’t notice any head jerks on those face mask penalties, but if the officials called it than that’s what it was,” said Magenbauer.
Salem got some tough breaks in the fourth quarter. A long pass from Adam McGarrell to Tolliver appeared to be a touchdown catch, and the official close to the play was ready to signal as such when a crew mate ran halfway across the field to say the ball hit the ground. Tolliver cleanly caught the ball at the top of his jump, but the Magna Vista defender was wrestling Bud for the ball as both fell into the end zone. It was ruled incomplete.
“We couldn’t really see anything on the film,” said Magenbauer. “Bud said he thought he had it. It was a judgement call.”
Salem got another tough break moments later. McGarrell fired a high bullet across the middle and receiver Stephen Barnette climbed an invisible ladder to make a spectacular catch between two defenders at the Magna Vista 15. After hitting the ground Barnette tossed the ball in the air in joy, and was whistled for a “celebration” penalty.
That negated a first down and put Salem in a long yardage situation. On the next play Magna Vista picked off a McGarrell pass to kill the Salem drive.
However, Barnette was able to play the hero none the less. On the ensuing drive he caused a fumble on a long Magna Vista pass and run, and the Spartans were able to get the ball back. Salem couldn’t pick up a first down, but a punt pinned the Warriors deep in their territory and they were forced to punt it back to Salem. The Spartans then drove to paydirt, with Collie scoring the winning TD on a one yard plunge with 31 seconds left.
“We were in good shape there because we had a timeout left,” said Magenbauer. “We didn’t have to stop the clock, because we knew if we didn’t make it we could call the timeout.”
With little time to work with the Warriors had no chance against the Spartan defense. Barnette put the icing on the cake with a brutal hit on a sideline pass in the closing seconds of the game. Stephen had returned from the locker room after falling on his hip breaking up a pass play. He was back for Salem’s final offensive series, catching a pass in the flat and taking the ball inside the 10 on Salem’s winning drive.
While Salem’s offense struggled, the defense played well. Magna Vista’s only touchdown was set up by a long return of a pass interception by Magna Vista’s Nick Iacobucci. He picked off a pass at midfield and returned it inside the 10, and a Salem facemask penalty moved it half-the-distance from there. The Salem defense held on two downs, but the Warriors were able to break the plane on third and one.
Salem’s first TD was set up when Magna Vista fumbled and Marty Bishop recovered in the second quarter. The score came on a Collie one yard run and for awhile that looked like it might be enough. It might have been if not for the interception. In 10 regular season games McGarrell was intercepted just three times, but on Friday the Warriors had two picks.
McGarrell completed 11 of 16 passes on the game for 144 yards. Reggie Barnette had four receptions for 54 yards and Stephen had three for 35. Tolliver had three catches for 49 yards and Ryan Murphy had one catch for seven yards. Murphy took a brutal hit after his catch but somehow managed to hold onto the ball.
Daniel Dyer led the Spartans in rushing with 83 yards on 25 carries. McGarrell had 24 yards on 13 carries and Collie had 22 on 10, as Magna Vista held Salem to a per rush average of just 2.5 yards per attempt, far below Salem’s season average.
Defensively, Seth Fisher had 10 tackles and a couple sacks. Stephen Barnette had eight tackles, two caused fumbles, and a key breakup in front of the Salem bench. He had to go the locker room briefly after that play but he returned and is expected to play this week.
“He’ll be a little sore this week, but coach (Chris) Tucker said he should be able to play,” said Magenbauer.
Phillip Hughes also had eight tackles. Marty Bishop and Jackson Bradley had seven tackles each and Ryan Dodd had six on the line.
Magenbauer hopes to have Jake Semones back this week. He was hoping to return last week, but the doctor wouldn’t clear his previously injured elbow. Jake is a key player on the defensive line.
Kirk Coles still wasn’t ready to return at tailback last week, and Devin Smith is out again this week with an ankle injury.
The winner of this week’s game will play at either Harrisonburg or Amherst County on December 5. Harrisonburg is at Amherst this weekend for the Region III, Division IV championship.
This year’s Group AA, Division 4 state championship game will be played at Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium on December 12.