by Brian Hoffman
The Salem High football team saw their season come to an end in the Region 4D championship game last Saturday in Lynchburg. Host E.C. Glass, the top seed in the region, beat the Spartans 35-21 in a game that went down to the final minutes.
“Our kids played hard but we made some critical errors and that cost us,” said Salem High coach Don Holter. “It was very disappointing but I’m proud of our kids.”
Salem never led in the game. After a scoreless first quarter the Hilltoppers drew first blood when they stopped Salem on a fourth and two on the Glass 36. The Toppers then drove the field and scored on a five yard run by Mike Thomas. The extra point was missed but Glass had a 6-0 lead with 6:24 left in the half.
Glass held again on fourth down on Salem’s ensuing possession, this time when the Spartans failed to complete a pass from punt formation at midfield on fourth and seven. The Toppers punched it in with 42 seconds remaining in the half and were successful on a two-point conversion for a 14-0 halftime lead.
Salem came firing back in the second half. The Spartans took the kickoff and drove to paydirt in just two minutes and 50 seconds with Jayveon Jones scoring on a three yard run. Wesley Cross’ extra point made it 14-7 and had the visiting crowd excited.
Glass made it a two score game again at the 5:34 mark of the third period. This time quarterback George White hit Vari Gilbert with a 46 yard TD pass for a 21-7 lead.
Salem got a break early in the fourth period. After forcing Glass to try a punt on their own side of the field the Spartans got good pressure up the middle and pushed the up-back toward the punter. He kicked the ball off his own man and Salem’s Jay’on Green grabbed the pig out of the air and raced 17 yards for a touchdown. The extra point was no good but Salem cut the lead to 21-13 with 11:51 still to go.
Once more, the Hilltoppers answered. It was White to Gilbert again, this time for a 59 yard TD hookup, and Glass had a 28-13 lead with 9:04 to go. Jonathan Vernon returned the kickoff to midfield but Glass intercepted a pass in the red zone to deny the Spartans and kill time off the clock.
Salem held on the ensuing drive and got the ball back on a punt with just over six minutes to go. At that point Peyton Lewis thrilled the Salem faithful by busting up the gut on a counter play, and once he got past the second wave he was gone for a 76 yard touchdown run. DaRon Wilson ran in for a two-point extra and the Spartans were back in business at 28-21 with 5:57 still to go.
The Hilltoppers attempted to kill the clock, but Salem forced a fourth and five situation on the SHS 46 with about two minutes remaining. However, the Spartans jumped offsides on fourth down, giving Glass a gift first down and that was pretty much the ballgame. Salem then had Glass in a fourth and one but Thomas broke free up the middle on fourth down and the Toppers punched in a meaningless TD in the final seconds to put it away. The offsides was the killer.
“I sure would have liked to see what we could do if we had the ball one more time,” said Holter. “We’d been really good in our two minute offense all year long and we would’ve had 2:18 on the clock with all three timeouts remaining.”
Lewis finished with 139 yards rushing on 13 carries to lead the Spartans. Jones had 43 yards on 12 attempts.
Wilson was five for 13 passing for 36 yards. Josiah Moyer had two catches for 20 stripes, Vernon had two for 17 and Jones had one catch.
On defense, Isaiah Barlow led Salem with 15 tackles. Ryan Coe had 13 while Green and Chris Martin had 10 each. Glass had no turnovers.
With the loss Salem ended the season at 10-3. The Spartans were undefeated in six home games and 4-3 on the road with losses at Martinsburg, WV, Patrick Henry and Glass. Wilson and tackle Andrew Lutes were three year starters for Salem and they finished their high school careers with a 34-5 record in those years along with a state championship and two region championships.
“A lot of people would like to have 10 wins in a season,” said Holter. “You hate to see it end but I’m extremely proud of this year’s accomplishments.”