By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– Salem Academy brought their own flare to the rivalry game with Blanchet Catholic Friday night.
Right before the Cavaliers started their Senior Night, the Crusaders dressed in full game time uniform, made the half-mile trek from Salem Academy to Blanchet Catholic. Lined two-by-two they walked into the stadium to claps from their home-crowd before Blanchet honored their Seniors.
It wasn’t the prettiest of games for both sides. Salem Academy committed five turnovers to the Cavs two and penalties plagued Blanchet in the game. But the Cavaliers stepped to the challenge, turning a 14-0 deficit into a 14-all ball game during the third quarter.
The tying score from Kyle Fromwiller came on the heels of Jacob Giruc’s second interception of the game and half, trying to do everything and anything in their power to hand their Seniors one last win.
“We stayed with it. It was huge, we haven’t been a fourth quarter team this season and it changed it this game even if it didn’t show it,” said Fromwiller. “This is the end of the rebuilding stage (for us), now we’re rolling. Now we’re ready.”
It wasn’t too long ago that the two programs met in the 3A State Semi-finals, 2016. The next year was the Cavs last year in the postseason. Both teams had their 0-9 seasons the last year or two, but if anything this was the year where both teams saw their potential.
“Last year it was rough because…new coaching staff, we didn’t totally buy into his philosophy and playbook. But I’m glad that we can start that for the younger kids because we have a lot of young talent,” said Salem Academy Senior Justin Johnson. “We got freshman talent starting for us, we didn’t have a lot of numbers last year but this year we have more numbers and more kids are going to come out for football. That’s huge for us, so I’m excited to see what’s coming.”
The last time the Crusaders had a five-win season was that 3A State Runner-Up team in 2016. They’ve won seven games total the last three years, but made the most of this season to build for the future.
Johnson put the Crusaders ahead with a seven-yard strike with 8:25 left in the game at 21-14 and had held Blanchet deep in their territory. Staying focused in the heat of the moment of battle as Salem Academy got the ball back from a punt.
“It was great to get that touchdown because our offense wasn’t clicking at the start, but it was good to finally have it coming at the end there,” Johnson said.
“Turnover changes games. We had a lot of turnovers; they had a lot of turnovers. At the end, they managed to turn it around more than we did, that’s pretty much the key,” adds Fromwiller.
But the Cavaliers stepped up big defensively. Johnson had dropped a first-down pass in the redzone from Brandon Reed that would’ve clinched the game with 2:24 left in the game instead gave breath back to Blanchet as they started on their own four.
Two big helmet-to-helmet plays, mixed in a few sound offensive pops, had the Cavs in Salem Academy territory with 1:39 left in the contest.
Kryptonite happened. A botched snap over Spencer Kowalski’s head pinned Blanchet with a big yardage deficit to overcome. The Crusaders defense held strong, settled in and had clinched the 21-14 victory a few plays later.
“We’ve had a really rough game at the start and that’s not how we play, so we just had to turn it up from there. This was a huge game for us. From the beginning we were looking at this Blanchet game since the very start of our season and all the games leading up to this game, we knew we would’ve had to work hard,” Johnson said, rushing for 47 yards on 11 carries. “It paid off at the end. That wasn’t our best football, but I’m glad we came out with the win.:
Chase Brown had 81 yards on 18 carries and two for 28 receiving. Reed was 8-for-15 passing for 127 yards passing for the Crusaders. Fromwiller had six carries for 57 yards rushing for Blanchet Kowalski was 11-for-20 for 117 yards and a touchdown pass to Brayden Hubbard from eight yards out.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald