By Matt Jenkins
SALEM — Never underestimate the importance of a non-conference matchup in the second week of the football season.
The early part of the football schedule for many teams is often brushed off as extended preseason, a time when teams play outside of their conferences and hope to improve enough before diving into a slate of league games.
Postseason berths are earned by capturing a conference title, but winning a league championship isn't a thought crossing the minds of Salem High players and coaches. The Witches are far more concerned with keeping momentum moving in the right direction, and the best way for them to do that is by beating Saugus tomorrow night at Bertram Field (7 p.m.).
Salem started its season in impressive fashion, shutting out Winthrop, 14-0. It was the Witches' first victory over the Vikings since 2002.
"These kids deserve it. I can't think of a group who have worked harder and want it more," Salem coach Scott Connolly said. "Winning breeds winning and success breeds success. The more you win, the more you develop the attitude that you can do it. If we get another win under our belt we'll have more confidence in what we're doing and more confidence in ourselves, and that would be huge."
Of course, beating Saugus, which plays in the Northeastern Conference Small, is easier said than done.
The Sachems, who run a triple option offense, pounded Bishop Fenwick in their opener, 41-20.
Saugus fullback Shamir Guillame had a huge day, rushing for 225 yards and four touchdowns on only eight carries. Steve Almquist also did damage, totaling 98 yards and a TD on just three carries. The Sachems didn't attempt a pass.
The triple option is difficult to defend because the quarterback sticks the ball in the fullback's chest then reads the defense to determine if he should give it or keep it. If the quarterback keeps it he can run it himself or pitch to a tailback.
"It's all about discipline," Connolly said about the key for his defense. "Everyone has a role. If you try to do someone else's role, we're going to get burned. We've gotta play assignment football. Everyone has a job, and we've gotta stick to our jobs."
The job of the Salem offense also becomes more difficult this week.
The Witches in all likelihood will need to score more points than they did in the opener as well. In order to do so, Salem has to be more consistent.
"It's all a matter of being on the same page," Salem senior captain and quarterback Brad Skeffington said. "In order to execute everybody needs to know what the guy next to them is doing."
Skeffington completed 8-of-14 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown against Winthrop, but Salem only showed flashes of the solid offensive team it can be.
A more complete effort is what Salem is aiming for and if it achieves it against the Sachems, the Witches will clearly have momentum on their side.
"That would be huge, rolling through Week 1 and beating a tough team. If we could come through with back-to-back wins, it's all about momentum in football," Skeffington said. "It's going to be tough, but if we go through winning this game, like we're planning on, then that momentum carries us through the next game."