The Salem Spartans find themselves in familiar territory on semifinal Saturday -- the round where last year's team got derailed by Heritage.
On Saturday the Spartans embark on a nearly three hour trip to Stephens City for the 4A semis, to face a Sherando team whose lone loss came back on September 6th against Martinsburg, West Virginia.
“We have to be able to play smart, line up correctly and then play physical,” Salem coach Stephen Magenbauer said. “But the key is just being relaxed and being able to play at this point and I think our kids will do that."
Salem has reeled off nine straight wins, scoring less than 40 points just once in that streak. It's a team that found its stride following back-to-back early-season losses to Roanoke Valley rivals William Byrd and Northside.
“We did know going into the season with a new quarterback, a new back, new running backs and some new guys up front and some new things we were doing on offense that it may take a little while to sort of get things meshed and hopefully we've done that now,” Magenbauer said. “But things can change in a hurry in the playoffs. Things can be great, and then all of a sudden you don't play as well. We've just got to remain focused at this point.”
Running back Coleman Fox said: Our entire team got together and said we need to turn things around and I think we've done a great job of that. We're starting to execute together when it matters in the playoffs.”
Saturday's 1 p.m. kickoff between the Spartans and top-seeded Sherando will be a rematch of the 1996 state championship game between the two at Roanoke's Victory Stadium. Salem won that matchup 20-12 in a rainy, muddy affair, that marked head coach Willis White's first state title.
“That's the last time we played them was in a big game, so normally if these two programs meet it's going to be in a situation like this,” Magenbauer said. “Last time it was for a state championship and this time it's to see who goes there so we know they've got a good program, coached extremely well. It'll be a great game. We're looking forward to it.”