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West Branch tops Salem to stay perfect

Staff photo / Brian Yauger West Branch quarterback Dru DeShields eludes a Salem defender Saturday night

SALEM — In the 50th meeting between two of the Valley’s most bitter rivals, West Branch and Salem made sure to make it an interesting one.

The teams battled it out, but West Branch reigned victorious in a 43-42 overtime thriller.

“Well we really faced a lot of adversity,” Warriors coach Ken Harris said. “Mistakes, penalties. Hats off to Salem, this is what rivalry football is about. The kids are resilient, they kept bouncing back and our playmakers made plays.”

With neither team needing the win for playoff purposes, the only thing on the line was pride.

It took overtime to decide the winner, but with the cannon smoke still lingering on the field after Salem’s score, West Branch quarterback Dru DeShields hit Steven Marra with a pass for a touchdown.

Instead of opting to kick the extra point, Harris put it all on the line and went for two.

DeShields, who had already sparked the team back out of a hole late in the fourth quarter, rose to the occasion once again, and powered his way up the middle to score the decisive points.

Kicking the extra point was never considered.

“As soon as we started our (overtime) drive we said we were not going to kick it, we’re going to go for 2,” Harris said.

Described as a “Woody Hayes football Iso call” by Harris, DeShields bulldozed his way into the endzone while still standing.

The junior quarterback wasn’t going to go down without giving it all he could.

“I knew I was just getting in,” DeShields said. “My teammates, I knew they were going to block for me. Credit to them and they blew them off the ball. I had a hole and I just hit the hole and scored.”

Salem took a 35-27 lead off a Jackson Johnson touchdown rush with two minutes to go. That’s when DeShields took over the game. He knew what he had to do.

“When he ran down the sideline and scored I said ‘That was the wrong decision,'” DeShields said. “He should have went down and chewed some clock maybe. I think that was just the wrong decision because I knew we had to score and go for two and I was like ‘I’m going to do it. Our team’s going to do it. We’re doing this.'”

It wasn’t just a rivalry win that made the game special for the Warriors. The win gave West Branch its third 10-0 season in school history and its first since 1994, when they won the state title.

As they enter the postseason as the top seed in Division IV, Region 13, Harris has all three of his team’s yearly goals checked off.

“It’s kind of surreal at this point,” Harris said. “Our number one goal every year is to beat Salem, and hats off to them for making that our number one goal, that’s what (a rivalry) is about. Number two is to win the league and number three is playoffs.”

Now it’s about having a strong outing in the postseason as the Warriors (10-0) open their run against Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy.

Salem (7-3) also will be starting its playoff journey at home, with the Quakers kicking off Week 11 against Peninsula Woodridge.

Both games are set for Friday at 7 p.m.

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