Heritage and Salem have met eight times previously. The series stands tied at four games apiece with Salem winning the last matchup in the 1998 regional championship game.
The Pioneers last won the state crown ten years ago under head coach Chris Jones. Coach Brad Bradley has them in position to do it again. But Bradley's alma mater stands in the way Saturday. The Pioneers have thrived in Bradley's first season as their head coach.
For Heritage High School, the 2012 playoffs are all about tradition. The football history of the team they beat last week, Amherst. And the team they face on Saturday, Salem.
"All we heard about was Amherst football tradition,” Bradley said. “Being in the state semifinals, what, eight out of nine years. Now it's going to be all about Salem's football tradition. But at the end of the day we're still here, we're still playing."
The Pioneers are trying to build their own legacy this season. The program dealt with three straight losing seasons from 2008-2010, and first-round playoff exits the last two years.
It has been a remarkable turnaround under first-year head coach Brad Bradley. Their spread offense is built for the playoffs, able to run or pass depending on what the defense gives them.
"It is a difficult system. These kids probably picked it up quicker than any team that I've ever been with,” Bradley said.
Uriah Hammond said, "The scheme he has, he's using all our weapons. That's nice."
Bradley added, "I think it all starts with our quarterback JeVontae Parrish. He's been a great fit for the system. He's really picked up on the system very well."
On the other side of the ball, the Pioneer defense has dominated down the stretch. They've allowed just 7 points over the last three games.
"They got a tough quarterback and a tough running back,” Shapiro Keeling said. “But we just contain what we got to do. We wrap up, we're going to come out there strong."
Bradley said, "They know what the other team's going to do when they're going to do it. We try to get them as prepared as possible. We treat it just like a class. If you're not prepared to go to class, you're not going to pass that class. If you're not prepared to go into a football game, you're not going to win."
For the second week in a row, Heritage will travel to a hostile environment, but that's just fine with the Pioneers.
"Oh you got to love that,” Hammond said. “Fans booing you, walking in. That's great, I love that atmosphere."
Keeling added, "And when you win you can show off on their field."
Facing one of the premier programs in southwest Virginia this week, Heritage hopes to take one more step toward the program's first state championship since 2002.
"We're trying to let people know that we on the map and this is our tradition,” Keeling said. “This is one year you only get for us. Me and my friend right here are seniors, so this is all we get. We are trying to do work out there."
Bradley added, "This year's senior class, I feel like, is going to lay that brick work, lay that foundation, for classes to come here at Heritage High School."
Game time for the Pioneers is 1 p.m. Saturday at Salem Stadium.