By MARK TRIBLE
Glory Days Football Writer
PISCATAWAY — It took five plays for the theme to be set here at SHI Stadium on Sunday.
Salem quarterback Jahki Coates lowered his pads on a couple of quarterback power runs. Then, he served as fullback for Jessiah Gildersleeve’s wildcat snap-and-rush that rolled 15 yards for six.
The Rams set the tone. Woodbury never came close to the same key.
Behind a ferocious defense and that mean running game, Salem rolled past the Herd here in the South/Central Jersey Group 1 Regional Championship, 34-8.
“Every single week we always come in like underdogs,” Coates said. “We play like it, but we don’t feel like it, though.
“We’ll forever play like underdogs. We don’t ever get into the politics. We just come in and play Salem football. That’s what we did today.”
The action started even before the whistle when words were exchanged prior to either side taking the field. Salem (11-2) took the exchange personally, then spoke loudly with pads.
On the day, they ran for 265 yards. Woodbury (12-1) gained 88 total, its lone touchdown on a fantastic 65-yard punt return by JaBron Solomon.
Coates tacked on a 17-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Selby in the first quarter. It remained 14-0 by intermission. In the second half, Solomon’s return trimmed the margin to 14-8. He broke a few tackles, somehow found daylight and broke down the right sideline.
It seemed that play would wake up the Herd.
Instead, the Rams began to trample.
“We teach physicality, effort, toughness, attitude, all that,” Gildersleeve said. “We knew when we came out for this game that we’re the bigger team.
“We play bully ball. We don’t let anyone get in our way. We were going to bully ball them, do what we do, punch them in their mouth until they stop — until they quit.”
Coates found Ramaji Bundy for a third-down score from the 18. On the next set of downs, Woodbury hit an open man to set up shop in the red zone. However, Salem’s defense forced a stall out on fourth down.
Of the next 15 offensive snaps, 14 were runs. The Rams scored twice — on a Gildersleeve 12-yard rush and Coates’ 2-yard plunge.
“The speed and the physicality they played with and causing the (two) turnovers, that’s what we wanted to establish today,” Salem coach Montrey Wright said. “And they got it done.”
The Rams finished with eight sacks. Amare Smith collected three and set the school record for most in a season with 19.
They harassed the previously-unbeaten Herd into no rhythm, no sustained possession — no nothing.
Gildersleeve led the attack with 113 yards on 25 carries. Coates went for 102 on 14.
“One thing you can’t do is be Salem football without the weight room,” Coates explained. “All we do is lift weights and condition.
“If your body’s not in shape to go pound-for-pound, you’re going to be in a hard game with us. They weren’t ready for that pound-for-pound football. So, we just took advantage of it and did what we do best, ran the ball down their throats.”
On the other side, Woodbury coach Anthony Reagan spoke to the youthful rosters of both sides with a laugh.
“It sounds like it’s the beginning of a rivalry,” the Herd alumnus said.
He had a good point for the immediate future of Group 1 football in South Jersey. Next year, both should be in the mix for the first state championship in history.
But on Sunday, the first chapter got slammed shut with some bully ball and the dominant Rams.
Mark Trible covers the West Jersey Football League for Glory Days Magazine. Check out his weekly show on facebook.com/acglorydays, The South Jersey Football Frenzy, on Tuesday at 7 p.m. You can also follow him on Twitter @Mtrible.