2023 FFN Game of the Week preview: Walnut Ridge at Salem

2023 marks the 30th year of Football Friday Night.
2023 marks the 30th year of Football Friday Night.(Source: KAIT)
Published: Sep. 13, 2023 at 6:21 PM CDT
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SALEM, Ark. (KAIT) - Our next Football Friday Night Game of the Week takes us to Fulton County, where two 3-0 3A squads will meet as Salem hosts Walnut Ridge.

Last Salem win: 2022 (36-7 at Salem in 3A First Round)

Last Walnut Ridge win: 2022 (36-34 at Walnut Ridge in regular season)

Salem Greyhounds (3-0)

Head coach Josh Watson’s Greyhounds used their physicality and experience to start off 3-0, including scoring over 35 in each game.

The former is the key word being thrown around practice this week. That is, matching the Bobcats’ physicality up front in hopes of stopping their potent rushing attack.

“It’s a nightmare to match up against,” Watson said of the Bobcats’ rushing attack. “You don’t see what they do very often. Your kids have to know how to adjust and how to align, and just matching Walnut Ridge’s physicality. Those kids get after it. Coach Blake and Coach Ward over there, they do a good job of getting their kids ready to play. They’re going to be very physical, they’re going to get after it. We’ve got to match that. That’s been my question to our kids all week, can we match their physicality?”

The Greyhounds and Bobcats both feature potent rushing attacks, this game likely will come down to the battle of the lines of scrimmage.

“We’ve got a stout backfield this year,” senior Spencer Jackson said. “The line is really good. We played Thayer, they were physical but we matched it, I think we can match this team too.”

“We’re really physical up front,” senior running back Elijah Romine added. “We run the ball really hard and obviously we run the ball quite a bit. They run the ball just as much as we do if not the same or more, but stopping the run is our main thing.”

Walnut Ridge Bobcats (3-0)

It was an electric atmosphere at Sexton Field last Friday for our Game of the Week Walnut Ridge had a thrilling second-half comeback victory, beating East Poinsett County 34-30. Now, they’ll prepare to go on the road.

“What I would call the second half is a growing up moment for our team,” senior tight end Mark Hatfield said of the EPC game. “We weren’t playing like we needed to and after halftime, we grew up.”

Looking ahead to this week, Walnut Ridge and Salem are more than familiar with each other. The two teams split last year’s meetings.

“It’s a good old conference rival but I feel like we’ve been playing each other so many times the past couple years,” Bobcat head coach Jeff Blake said. “We’re really familiar with each other. It’s like another conference game, just the familiarity with the kids and how each player knows each other. It should be a good old-fashioned football game.”

It was the Greyhounds getting the last laugh last season, winning in the playoffs.

“Just obviously taking care of the football, last year in the playoffs that kind of hurt us,” Blake said. “We won the turnover battle in the first game we played in the regular season game. In the first round in the playoffs, we lost that turnover battle so we got to make sure we’re taking care of the football and I think the team who has the least amount of turnovers should be the team that comes out on top.”

Both coaches say physicality will be important for this year’s matchup. Much like last week, it looks to be another battle of run-heavy teams.

“They’ve got a really good running back, he’s a strong running back, he was pretty good last year but I think we have a good D-line,” senior defensive end Dawson Ward said. “We’ve got strong guys up front so I think it will be a good matchup. Stay on your blocks till the whistle and go play your hearts out.”