ROCK ON! Salem caps season with satisfying victory over Zebras
50-28 win is important foundation-builder heading into off-season, Salem’s program leaders agree
Heading into Thursday night’s season finale against Wayne Memorial, Salem’s football team hadn’t won — but the Rocks never quit throughout their less-than-satisfying first eight games.
That keep-plugging-away mindset fueled the Rocks’ 50-28 victory, providing at least decent-sized doses of momentum and optimism heading into the off-season.
“The guys who played for us tonight don’t have a quitting bone in their body,” said first-year Salem Head Coach Brendan Murphy. “It doesn’t matter if they’re playing Canton or Wayne, they’ve worked and worked all year.
“Hopefully, this win will give us some momentum heading into off-season workouts and the guys take hold of it and keep it going.”
Both teams entered Thursday’s game with 0-8 records — just like 2021 when Salem capped its season with a 42-0 triumph.
Salem’s tandem of senior Roberts — Jones and Ahlgren — closed their high school careers in style. Jones rushed 24 times for 141 yards and three touchdowns.
Ahlgren hurt the Zebras with his arm and his feet, completing 13 of 18 passes for 203 yards and three TDs. He also rushed for 63 yards and a touchdown on five carries.
“This feels amazing,” Robert Jones said. “It’s been hard the past three years (Salem is 3-22 since 2020), but winning tonight can help get the guys coming back off to a good start moving forward. I am proud to be part of Coach Murphy’s first senior class.”
“This win is massive for the younger guys on this team,” Ahlgren agreed. “The fact that they can see how much we cared every game and how we never gave up. I’m excited to see what they can do in the next few years.”
Ahlgren spread the ball out efficiently to five different receivers, each of whom secured at least two receptions. Luca Spadoni (50 yards) and Lawson Shields (47 yards and a TD) shared the team lead with three catches each.
Among the senior defensive players who stepped up for the Rocks were Shields, Nick Mullin and Mason Fraley — all of whom had a hand in keeping Wayne dangerous skill position players in check for most of the night.d
The Zebras were hamstrung by a flurry of flags as a blizzard of illegal procedure penalties and back-to-back unsportsmanlike conduct calls on their bench stifled drives.
Wayne freshman quarterback Demarus Bird played like an upperclassman, tossing three touchdown passes, while junior running back Darnell Johnson, Jr. led the ground game with 64 yards on 13 hauls.
“I have nothing but respect for them,” Jones said of Wayne’s short-handed squad. “The way they came out and battled showed how much character they have.”
Salem’s 50-point outburst nearly eclipsed their point total in the first eight games (69).
Ahlgren got the winners rolling on their first drive, zig-zagging through the Zebras’ defense for a 26-yard touchdown — his first rushing score of the season. Alex Wiewiora boomed the extra point, his first of six.
Salem doubled its lead to 14-0 four minutes in when Ahlgren connected with Shields on a 25-yard touchdown.
Ja’vion Gibson’s 2-yard plunge with 7:15 left in the first quarter brought Wayne to within 14-6, but Salem countered two minutes later when Ahlgrem hooked up with Zach Passmore on an 8-yard scoring strike.
The Rocks led 36-20 at the half thanks to a pair of short scoring runs by Jones.
Fraley and Andrew Andrikos recovered fumbles for Salem, which didn’t commit a single turnover.
“Winning always feels good, it doesn’t matter if it’s the first game or the last game of the season,” Murphy said, as his smiling players milled about around him.
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