Charleston will look to end the year on a high note and knock out a potential playoff team at home on Senior Night. Salem enters with a 4-4 record, needing just one win to become eligible for the playoffs. Charleston will be playing for pride at Trojan Hill. Here is the preview for tonight’s game. 

Team Records: Salem (4-4, 2-3) Charleston (2-6, 1-5)

Past Results: Salem finished fourth in the Cahokia Conference. After starting the season 4-1, the Wildcats are in the midst of a three-game losing streak. Salem opened the year with a 35-28 loss to Centralia. After that, the team rattled off four straight wins over Marquette Catholic (40-21), Harrisburg (41-22), East Alton Wood River (46-0), and Roxana (32-19. In the last three weeks, Salem has dropped contests to conference champion Breese Central (7-6), Columbia (46-7), and Freeburg (35-6).

Meanwhile, Charleston is coming off a 32-7 loss to Mount Zion last week. The week before Charleston played Mattoon in a wild Clash game before losing 32-27. Outside of a forfeit win over Robinson, Charleston’s lone win is a 34-28 victory over Taylorville. Charleston has also dropped games to Lincoln, Effingham, Mahomet-Seymour, and Collinsville.  Two years ago, Salem took the last meeting between the two teams, 35-14. 

“Winning this game is pretty huge,” said Payne. “When we beat Mattoon in the Clash last year, it was the final game of the season. It gave us a lot of momentum going into the offseason. We had a lot of seniors who hadn’t played in a while come back out partly because we had won the Clash. With this being the last game of the year, it would help bring the momentum back.”

Tickets: Tickets will be sold at the gate at Trojan Hill.

School Size: Salem (646), Charleston (796)

Kickoff: 7 p.m

Opponent’s History: Head coach Kevin Greene has led the team since 2012. Greene suffered seven straight losing seasons before leading the Wildcats to their first playoff berth since 2006 in 2018. The Wildcats qualified for the playoffs in 2019 as well. Had COVID not taken away the playoffs, the team would have likely earned another berth in 2020 with a 3-3 record. As a program, Salem owns just three playoff berths since 2000. Former Charleston head coaching great Chuck Budde guided Salem as well, from 1981 to 1989, amassing 64 wins and seven playoff berths.  Salem is a former member of the Apollo before leaving for the Cahokia Conference in 2017. 

“We’ve had some good games with the Trojans over the years, both in the Apollo and most recently in 2019 in our first non-conference game with them,” said Greene. “I’m glad we’ve been able to keep that rivalry going since we’ve left the Apollo.”

Salem Running Game: Salem is led by 5-foot-10, 190-pound senior running back Keyton Mitchell, who has 546 rushing yards on 100 carries and six touchdowns. Senior running back Shawn Daily is second on the team with 197 yards. 

Salem Passing Game: Salem is led by quarterback, 6-foot-0, 200-pound senior Quentin Purcell, who has completed 62 of 115 passes for 912 yards, four touchdown passes, four interceptions, and owns a QBR of 77.2. His top receiver appears to be junior Caden Bee, who owns 21 receptions for 427 yards and two touchdowns. All stats are through six games. 

“They have a solid running back and their QB is not the dual-threat we normally see in the  Apollo,” said Payne. “They have maybe one or two receivers they key in on. Coming off our game against Mt. Zion, defensively we feel pretty good. We made Mt. Zion work for every touchdown they scored.”

Salem Defense: The defense is led by sophomore Caleb Smith with 47 tackles. Smith stands at 6-foot-0 and 220 pounds. Mitchell is a two-way player and is second on the team with 42 tackles. Both Bee and Bailey are also two-way players, leading the team with two interceptions apiece. 

Miscellaneous: The weather is projected to be 55 degrees at kickoff with a humidity of 71%, a two percent chance of rain, and winds at one mile per hour. 

Charleston Rushing Game: All of Charleston’s stats are through six games this season. On the season, Shrader leads the team with 50 carries for 239 yards. Jack Nelson has rushed 34 times for 111 yards. 

Charleston Passing Game: Nelson has completed 37 of 76 passes for 325 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. Backup Nate Schrader has completed 3-of-7 passes for 43 yards. Luke Nelson leads the team with three receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown. Hunter White added five receptions for 69 yards. Langdon King owns five receptions for 70 yards. Wade Wright owns two receptions for 59 yards. 

“Their kids offensively overall are doing a nice job,” said Greene. “They have solid balance and the QB does a great job of getting the ball out to his playmakers.  The scariest part of their offense in my opinion is their kids upfront give them the ability to run and pass when they want to.  The QB also handles the ball in the backfield very well. If we don’t play sound assignment football, we will struggle.  Defensively, their front 7 is very good.  Their defensive lineman does a great job of owning their gaps and their linebackers are some of the more consistent players we’ve seen this year.”  

Charleston Defense: Shrader leads the team in tackles with 26, including 17 solos. Next up is Collin Patterson with 19 total tackles.

“We have to execute plain and simple,” said Payne. “They do a lot of things similar to what they did two years ago. When I look at our game against Mt. Zion, I see a lot of missed opportunities. Mt. Zion beat us, but it was 19-7 at one point and we were right there fighting. We made too many mistakes in the end. We can’t make those mistakes against Salem. This is going to be a very good game.”

What Salem Said: “Charleston is an improving program overall,” said Greene. “Coach Payne has done a great job there and this is a concerning game regardless of the circumstances that surround it.  We’ve just preached this week that we have to focus on getting off to a good start, and playing a solid first quarter. They will have great energy I’m sure from the excitement of Senior Night and we have to be ready for that. It’ll be a tough challenge for sure.” 

What Charleston Said: “We want to finish the year strong,” said Payne. “We challenged the seniors to step up in their final game. When the game is over, we want to feel like we left everything on the field. It sounds cliche, but we know that beating Salem puts them out of the playoffs. You have a chance to finish on a high note and knock someone else out of the playoffs.”