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Winning tradition drives Tigers

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This year’s squad delivers on high expectations

For many prep programs, reaching the playoffs is something that is only dreamed about. At West Liberty-Salem, it has become the norm.

Fueled by their second straight undefeated regular season, the Tigers are in the postseason for the seventh time in the past nine years.

“It is easy to fall into the thought that this has become old hat for us, but we try to appreciate the success we’ve had and not take (getting to the playoffs) for granted,” said WL-Salem head coach Toby Smith, who has compiled a 110-39 record in 14 seasons. “At the same time, the expectation is high. Our guys expect to get this far. After the season, we can kind of sit back and reflect on what we accomplished, but right now it is all business.”

The Tigers, who host Dayton Christian at 7 p.m. Saturday in a Division V regional quarterfinal, absolutely dominated their competition in the regular season this fall.

WL-Salem won its 10 games by an average score of 48-13. No opponent got closer than 19 points to the Tigers.

In Week 10, WL-Salem snapped Triad’s eight-game winning streak with a commanding 34-7 victory that clinched the Ohio Heritage Conference title.

Despite all of the lopsided scores they posted this season, Smith believes the Tigers have yet to completely reach their potential.

“We are not playing at the optimum level we are capable of playing at,” said Smith. “We still have some room to grow. We have to keep plugging away and clean up some of the mistakes we’ve made because even the smallest of mistakes can send you home at this point.”

A look at Dayton Christian

While the playoffs are nothing new to WL-Salem, they are for Dayton Christian. This is the first time the Warriors have qualified for the postseason.

Like the Tigers, the Warriors posted a perfect regular season record. They averaged a whopping 52.4 points per game.

Even with its 10-0 record, Dayton Christian is a bit of an unknown because of its lack of strong competition. The teams the Warriors beat had a combined record of 31-68.

The Warriors are coached by Dave “Doc” Amlin. This is his first year as head coach at Dayton Christian, but he does have previous head coaching experience. He was the head coach at Troy Christian from 2003 to 2005.

“We had a pep assembly and all the kids from kindergarten through 12th grade were there,” said Amlin. “Everyone is pretty excited. I just hope that our kids are not just satisfied to be to this point. We want to win.”

The Heath Harding Show

The main cog in the Warriors’ offense is star senior running back Heath Harding (5-10, 175).

A blur in the open field, Harding has rushed for more than 2,000 yards this fall and has more than 5,000 yards for his career. He has received scholarship offers from Bowling Green, Buffalo, Miami of Ohio and Toledo.

Harding was a special mention all-Ohio selection as a junior.

“They are a very explosive football team,” said Smith. “They have an outstanding running back. It is going to be a tall task to slow him down.”

Playing fundamentally sound defense will be the key to containing Harding, says Smith.

“We have to be disciplined and stay in our lanes,” said Smith. “We can’t have a bunch of guys chasing him around, because he can make them all miss. We have to be sound and stay disciplined.”

Offensive explosion

Both the Warriors and Tigers have lit up the scoreboard on a regular basis.

WL-Salem scored at least 25 points in every game during the regular season and scored more than 60 three times.

Senior quarterback Riley Sims has sparked the Tigers’ offense with 1,054 passing yards and 14 touchdowns and 1,078 rushing yards and 15 more touchdowns.

“They are a very good offensive team,” said Amlin. “Their quarterback is a tough player to contain. They have been scoring a bunch of points all season and we have to find a way to hold them down a little because their defense is really good, too.”

The Warriors’ lowest point total of the season was 33. They scored a season-high 72 points in a Week 2 win over Preble Shawnee.

Dayton Christian has an experienced signal caller in senior Tanner Wall (6-1, 180). This is his third year as the team’s starting quarterback.

“We are going to need Tanner to have a good game throwing the ball,” said Amlin. “They have a good defense and I am sure they will try to focus on stopping Heath. We have to have some balance on offense.”

Check out 2012 OHSAA PLAYOFFS PREVIEW in Friday's Examiner. CLICK HERE to subscribe today!

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