SALEM – Salem High School football coach Stephen Magenbauer said following Saturday’s VHSL Class 4 state semifinal game against Sherando that when the Spartans have played well this season, they’ve done so by playing great defense and running the football. His comment came shortly after Salem did both in a display of dominance that ended Sherando’s season a win short of the program’s fifth state championship game appearance.
The Spartans, winners of the last two Class 4 state titles, secured a spot in the state championship game for the fourth straight year with a 49-14 thumping of the visiting Warriors, a game in which Salem senior running back De’Angelo Ramsey rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns to single-handedly outgain the entire Sherando offense
Salem (12-2), which has won nine straight games, will take on Louisa County – a 20-13 winner over Lafayette in the other state semifinal – in this weekend’s state championship game held at the College of William & Mary.
The Spartans set the tone for Saturday’s blowout victory when Ramsey took a handoff on the game’s first offensive play, burst through a hole on the left side of the line, spun off a tackle, planted a hand into the Salem Stadium turf to maintain his balance and raced 66 yards to the end zone.
“People don’t really wanna say it,” Warriors junior defensive tackle/offensive lineman Isaiah Allen said, “but when you get scored on the first play, that kind of might dim your spirits a little bit. But you’ve just gotta know mentally that you can come back and that you can keep going on. It’s really just all mental. If you believe that you can come back after that first big, explosive play, then you’re fine, and sometimes it just slips on other people.”
Sherando (11-3) never recovered.
Ramsey added touchdown runs of 2 and 22 yards in the first quarter and another scoring scamper of 30 yards in the second as the Spartans built a 35-0 heading into halftime. Salem churned out 173 yards in the first quarter alone and out-gained Sherando 287-51 in the first half.
“Obviously we didn’t respond well enough after that (first Salem TD),” Warriors head coach Bill Hall said. “But again, I don’t know if that was so much on our psyche or if it was our physicality. I don’t know which component didn’t respond well enough. Ultimately that comes back to me. I ‘m responsible for getting these guys ready, so I take full ownership of that.”
Sherando – which entered the game allowing just 129.8 yards rushing per contest and welcomed back junior linebacker/fullback JoJo Doleman, the Class 4 Northwestern District Defensive Player of the Year, in a limited capacity after he missed last game with a knee injury – had no answer for Ramsey and Salem’s running game, which generated 314 yards on the ground on Saturday afternoon and averaged 9.2 yards per carry.
Missed tackles burned the Warriors on multiple occasions. Sherando failed to wrap up the ball carrier on a pair of long pass plays during Salem’s 10-play, 87-yard touchdown drive on its second possession of the game, and Ramsey ran through three arm tackles on his third scoring jaunt of the first quarter that put the Spartans up 21-0.
Ramsey, listed at 211 pounds, averaged over 12 yards per rush and had three carries of 22 yards or more.
“He just puts his shoulder pads down and keeps going. That’s definitely one of the old-fashioned type of backs,” said Allen, who added that Sherando “might’ve” taken plays off during what was as much a mental battle with Salem’s physicality up front. “You don’t see that a lot now in high school. A lot of people wanna be shifty and stuff, so I think him playing with that kind of style definitely brings something different because most people aren’t used to just getting down in the hole and just cracking somebody like that.”
Hall said the Spartans, who had eight plays go for 20-plus yards and four plays of 40 yards or more, also showed some different things schematically on offense than what the Warriors’ had seen on film.
“We’re probably a little different from a defensive perspective, like we do a lot of spilling things out so things can run east and west, and so what they did is they didn’t do a lot of block-down, kick-out scheme with us. They did a lot more solid stuff so things would never spill, they would just go downhill,” Hall said.
“But we made some adjustments,” he added. “I don’t think that was the difference in the ballgame.”
An unforgiving Salem defense made sure that a Sherando offense that entered the game averaging 43.2 points per game couldn’t keep pace. The Spartans harassed Sherando junior quarterback Hunter Entsminger all afternoon while tallying six sacks, and limited the Warriors to only 70 yards rushing and 2.9 yards per carry.
“Our line had been playing probably the best football it’s had all year the last couple weeks. I can’t really tell you what happened. We just weren’t getting it done today,” said Entsminger, who completed 11 of 22 passes for 170 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
“Definitely one of the most physical teams (we’ve played),” added Entsminger, who said Salem’s tight man coverage made it difficult to push the ball downfield. “And they brought a lot of pressure. It’s hard to pick up five, six guys when they’re bringing them. Those little things like that, and them just going 100 percent every play and not taking a play off, just things like that really just (contributed to) the outcome.”
Sherando finally found some success on offense after senior Aaron Banks halted a Salem drive with an interception at the Warriors’ 7-yard line late in the third quarter. Banks took a shovel pass 77 yards to the Spartan 16 on first down, and Entsminger found running back T.J. Washington on a wheel route for a TD on the next play to put the Warriors on the board with 2:23 left in the third.
Salem answered with two more touchdowns – first on a 17-yard pass from Jack Gladden (5 of 8 passing, 131 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) to Viante Tucker (three receptions, 84 yards, two TDs) and then on Josh Mutshipule’s 3-yard TD plunge early in the fourth quarter – to stretch its lead to 49-7 before Entsminger found Frank Ritter for a 13-yard scoring pass with 4:41 to play.
Sherando gained 189 of its 240 yards in the second half – Doleman led the Warriors with 56 yards rushing on six carries and caught two passes for 30 yards despite playing at less than 100 percent – and Entsminger said he was “beyond proud” of how the Warriors competed over the last two quarters.
“We’re losing by 35 points at half. I mean, we’d never been down by that much this season,” Entsminger said, “so we came in the locker room and we knew it wasn’t about winning at that point. It was just about this is for our pride, for us to show that we’re not just gonna roll over, give up when we’re down. … I’m beyond happy with what we did.”