By Brian Hoffman
The Salem High football team will try to bounce back this Friday when they play a non-district game at Franklin County High School. The Spartans dropped their season opener at Martinsburg, West Virginia last Friday night, 40-7, against a formidable Bulldogs team.
Last Friday was the third time in three tries the Spartans have lost to Martinsburg, including the season opener the past two years. Those were the only three regular season losses by Salem since Don Holter took over as head coach in 2019.
Playing the Bulldogs is a formidable task for the Spartans. The Bulldogs have won five straight full season championships and nine overall since 2010. After beating Salem Friday they have an overall record of 148 wins and just nine losses during that time and they’ve only lost twice since 2016. This was the second game of the two-year cycle and Salem will not play Martinsburg the next two seasons, replacing them with George Washington of Danville for their opening game.
“It’s an eye-opener to see what kind of talent is out there,” said Salem coach Don Holter of the Martinsburg team. “It absolutely lets you know exactly where you are.”
With that said, the Spartans hung tough in the first half Friday despite putting themselves in an early hole. After stopping the Bulldogs on downs at the Salem 43 in the opening drive the Spartans went three and out, then had their punt blocked. Martinsburg picked up the loose pig and scored with 7:31 to go in the first quarter.
Salem’s next possession resulted in an interception that was returned to the Spartan 9 yard line. Again the defense stiffened and Martinsburg had to settle for a 23 yard field goal at the 4:41 mark of the first quarter.
That was the only scoring of the first half until the Bulldogs kicked another field goal with 3:01 until halftime. Again, the Salem defense held inside their own 10 and forced the field goal and Salem trailed 13-0 at the half on a blocked kick and two short field goals after defensive stands.
Salem received the kickoff to start the second half, but much like the first half the Spartans had trouble moving the ball. Salem’s usually reliable ground attack was held to 97 total yards. Jayveon Jones led Salem with 50 yards on 12 carries while Chris Martin had 21 on 13 attempts and Josiah Persinger had two carries for 15 yards.
The Spartans had 69 yards through the air as DaRon Wilson completed six of 17 attempts under constant pressure. Josiah Moyer and Jonathan Vernon had two receptions each and Moyer had Salem’s only touchdown, a fourth quarter reception with the game well out of reach. Salem’s best reception was negated by a holding penalty.
Defensively, Jaelyn Allen was all over the field, leading Salem with a dozen tackles. Isaiah Barlow and Ryan Coe had seven tackles each and Chris Cole had two defended passes.
“They have a heck of a football team,” said Salem coach Don Holter. “Hats off to them, they were prepared for us and did a fantastic job. We need to be more prepared. We made a lot of mental errors, mistakes and penalties and we have to do a better job. I’m excited to get back to work. Good teams get better off an ass whipping like that.”
While Holter was disappointed with the result and the execution, he wasn’t upset about the effort.
“Our kids played four quarters,” he said. “The effort was there, now the question is how we’re going to respond to that.”
It should be an interesting game in Rocky Mount Friday as the Spartans try to take out their frustration on the Eagles. Last week Franklin County opened the season with a 21-17 win over Bassett. The Eagles are coached by former Salem assistant JR Edwards and he always has his team well-prepared.
“They’re well-coached and they have good size,” said Holter. “They’ll get after you and they execute in all three phases of the game.”