The Salem football team didn’t grab the top spot in Region 4D until all was said and done last weekend, but now that the playoffs are here everything runs through Salem.
The Spartans defeated Patrick Henry at Salem Stadium last Friday, 37-13, and the points gained by beating a Class 5 team with seven wins was enough to lift them past George Washington of Danville for the top spot in Region 4D. Salem finished with a 9-1 record and a 30.9 rating while GW was close behind at 30.25.
Salem will open the playoffs this Friday night at Salem Stadium against eighth seeded Amherst County. That’s a familiar foe for the Spartans, who have played Amherst every season since 2015, including a 24-7 playoff win over the Lancers in the COVID delayed spring season just seven month ago, on April 9. Salem has won seven of the last eight meetings with Amherst and is 15-5 overall since beating the Lancers in the very first game at Salem Stadium in 1984.
“We know they’re well coached, Bob Christmas does a great job,” said Salem coach Don Holter. “They’re athletic and they have good speed. They’ll get after you.”
Amherst comes in on a three game losing streak with losses to Brookville, 36-21, Liberty Christian, 42-7, and Heritage, 55-20. They lost to GW 42-15 and E.C. Glass, 44-6.
Meanwhile, Salem has been on a roll. After opening the season with a loss to West Virginia power Martinsburg the Spartans have won nine straight, counting a forfeit win over Blacksburg. Last week’s win over a solid Patrick Henry team was a great tune-up for the playoffs.
“We knew Patrick Henry was going to challenge us,” said Holter. “We had to be at our best.”
This game was tied 7-7 at the half. The Patriots scored first on a 22 yard touchdown on the old “hook and lateral” play, catching the Spartans completely off-guard. Salem answered when Cam Leftwich finished off a drive and that’s how it stood at the half, 7-7.
The second half was all Salem. The Spartans took the opening drive and used good ole fashioned Salem football to eat the clock and march to paydirt, with Leftwich scoring on a four yard run. PH stayed close on a 57 yard pass play but Cameron Martindale blocked the extra point and Salem led 14-13 after three quarters.
A 20 yard pass play from DaRon Wilson to Chauncey Logan, Jr. put the Spartans up 21-13, as Logan evaded a Patriot defender and raced to the end zone. On the ensuing kickoff the Patriots couldn’t handle a pooch kick and Isaiah Barlow recovered for Salem, setting up the Spartans in great field position. Salem drove it in for a 28-13 lead with Leftwich scoring his third TD.
The Spartans would add an 11 yard run from Barlow to make it 35-13, and a bad snap resulted in a safety in the closing minutes for a final score of 37-13 in a game that was much closer than the score indicated.
“We showed intensity and focus in the second half,” said Holter.
Leftwich finished with 147 yards rushing on 29 carries and his three touchdowns give him 22 for the season. Jayveon Jones had 83 yards on 20 carries and Barlow had seven attempts for 33.
Wilson was six for nine passing for 66 yards, with three completions to Logan for 37 yards. Jake Massey, Jonathan Vernon and Chase Greer had one reception each.
On defense Noah Collins continued to set the tone with seven tackles, including two for losses, and an interception. Carson Williams also had seven tackles and Stacy Williams had six, with three for losses.
The Spartans are relatively healthy as they enter the playoffs. Kicker Wesley Cross has missed the past three games but Caleb Wright has filled in and hasn’t missed an extra point kick.
If the Spartans win Friday they’ll host the winner of a game between fifth seeded Louisa County and fourth seeded E.C. Glass the following week. Other first round games have seventh seeded Orange County at GW-Danville and sixth seeded Halifax County at third seeded Western Albemarle this weekend.
Salem’s jayvee team finished undefeated last week with a 24-0 win over Patrick Henry in Roanoke. Bryson Fraction had two “pick sixes” for the Spartans as they completed their season at 9-0.