SALEM — What started out as a whisper has since advanced to a hum, and now a buzz.
The hype surrounding the Salem High football team hasn’t yet become a scream, but a win over Lynn Classical tomorrow night at Manning Field (7 p.m.) would help the sound go up a few decibels.
Of course, all of that is just outside noise to the Witches, another distraction that could sidetrack Salem from its current goal.
“Every week there’s just one game on our schedule and this week it’s Lynn Classical,” Salem senior captain Alex Veloukas said. “We have to stay focused.”
It could be easy for Salem to get distracted. Many of these Witches played key roles on last year’s team that went only 1-10. Now, Salem is already 3-1 but this group finds no satisfaction in having tripled the win total in a year.
Two years ago, Salem won its final two games to end the season 6-5, the program’s only winning season since the Witches won a Super Bowl in 1999.
These Witches are intent on never getting complacent, always zeroing in on their current opponent and continuing to move forward.
“We have 11 one-game seasons,” Salem coach Scott Connolly said, echoing the sentiment of Veloukas. “In the (summer) passing leagues we did some good things, but passing league is a passing league. It’s really for us to get team chemistry and there’s no (offensive) line there. We know games are won and lost on the offensive lines. Our line has done very well so far, but this is the only game on our schedule ... and it’s a big one.”
Salem hasn’t defeated Lynn Classical since 2004, and that win is the only one over the Rams in the last 12 seasons. The last three contests were decided by three scores.
The Rams figure to be another challenging opponent this year.
Both teams come in with 3-1 records with Classical riding the momentum of an impressive 16-14 victory over North Andover.
“They don’t run a ton of plays, but what they run, they run to perfection,” Connolly said. “They love to pound the ball, but a win (tomorrow) would be enormous for our confidence. We haven’t beaten them since 2004 and that would be a confidence booster. They play tough, hard-nosed football and that’s why they’ve been so hard to beat.”
The Rams rely on a strong offensive line and a stable of dangerous backs.
Devon Crayton, Brad Scuzzarella, and Justin Avery carry most of the load for Classical.
Classical is also known for a strong defense and that unit’s top priority against Salem will be keeping senior captain Christian Dunston in check. Dunston, a quarterback, fills the stat categories like no other player on the North Shore.
Dunston leads the Witches in passing with 335 yards and four touchdowns. He also leads the team in rushing with 173 yards and two more scores. He’s second on the team in receiving with 77 yards and another TD.
Other than Dunston, the Witches spread the ball around effectively. Senior captain and wide receiver Ben Kapnis is a tall, athletic target for Dunston on the outside.
Connolly knows that the more stops his defense can create, then the more opportunities for his skilled players to make things happen on offense.
“As everyone says, our best offense is our defense,” Connolly said. “We want to get them in three-and-outs and second-and-longs. It will be huge for our defensive linemen to play great. That’s what we need to do, but it’s a tough task because they’re very good up front and they’re well coached.”
Senior captain Jared Louf-Woods and Cam Harvey are critical to the team’s success on the defensive line.
Louf-Woods has been an unsung hero for the Witches all season. According to Connolly, he is a leader on and off the field for the Witches.
“He is one of the best leaders I’ve ever worked with. People follow him and listen to him. He does the right thing on and off the field,” Connolly said. “In terms of the offensive line and defensive line, he’s been our best player on both sides of the ball. He just gets it done. He’s someone that doesn’t come off the field for us and I just can’t say enough good things about him.”
And Louf-Woods can’t say enough about his teammates.
“Everyone just trusts each other,” Louf-Woods said. “It’s a brotherhood on the field or in the weight room, no matter what.”
What You Need to Know Who: Salem (3-1) at Lynn Classical (3-1) When: Tomorrow night, 7 p.m. Where: Manning Field What's at stake: Both teams come in with identical records and each team would like to keep its positive momentum rolling. Salem has defeated Classical only once in the last 12 years and that win came in 2004. The last three meetings have been decided by three scores or more.