By Brian Hoffman
The old Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared,” and you can say the same thing about football. Last Friday the Spartans were prepared and it helped them hang on for a 33-32 win in a thriller against Franklin County in Rocky Mount.
Salem led the offensive show, 33-26, with time running down and Franklin County on the move. The Eagles punched one across on a two yard run with 32 seconds left and Franklin coach JR Edwards, a former Salem assistant, decided to go for the win. His team came out in the “muddle huddle” formation, with most of the line off to the left and the quarterback on the right in shotgun formation behind the center, who is an eligible receiver in this formation.
The object of the “muddle huddle” is for the quarterback to make a split decision. If the defense doesn’t follow the line, he throws to that side to a runner who has blockers and few defenders to negotiate. If the defense goes with the line he can run against a limited defense or throw to the center. It’s a formation former Salem coach Willis White has used on occasion and it can catch a defense by surprise.
But it didn’t surprise the Spartans.
“We’ve worked on that in practice,” said Salem coach Don Holter. “Martinsburg did that against us last year and we do our best to be prepared for anything that might come up. Coach Edwards is a Highfill (former William Byrd coach Jeff, who played for Eddie Joyce at Andrew Lewis in high school) disciple and Byrd would line up like that sometime. We had worked on it and the kids did a good job.”
On this night the Spartan defense followed the line and Franklin quarterback Eli Foutz decided to throw a pass for the two point try that would win the game. However, Salem had it well-defended as linebacker Jaelyn Allen got a piece of the ball as safety Chris Cole nailed the would-be receiver for good measure. Salem held the one point lead, and when the Spartans recovered the ensuing onside kick they had their first win of the young season.
“I was happy with the win but obviously we have a lot to work on,” said Holter. “We found a way to win and that’s good, it’s a good group and the kids played hard. But we have to get a whole lot smarter. We can’t be giving up 32 points.”
This one truly went down to the wire as neither team had more than a one-possession lead all night. The Eagles got the ball first and ate up nine minutes of clock before Foutz scored on a one yard run. Salem had trouble with the quarterback run right up the gut for the entire drive.
It didn’t take the Spartans long to tie the game. A minute and a half later quarterback DaRon Wilson hit a wide open Jayveon Jones and he hauled the pig 68 yards for the score, with Wesley Cross kicking the extra point to tie the game.
That’s how the game stood well into the second period before Salem coughed up the ball with a fumble at the Spartan 34, giving Franklin great field position to take it in for a score. The extra point attempt was wide right but the Eagles had a 13-7 lead with 4:51 until the half and that’s how the game stood at halftime as the Eagles held Salem in the red zone with time running out in the half.
Salem got the ball first in the second half and marched right down the field, with Wilson hitting Allen in the end zone on an eight yard TD pass and the kick gave the Spartans their first lead at 14-13. Salem scored again on a short run by Jones with four minutes left in the third quarter but the extra point snap was bobbled, and holder Chris Martin’s pass to the end zone went incomplete as the Eagles stayed close at 20-13.
Franklin County scored again early in the fourth quarter but again missed the extra point as Salem held on to a 20-19 lead. Less than a minute later, with 10:23 remaining, Wilson found Josiah Moyer behind the defense and Moyer made a nice over-the-shoulder catch and left the defender for a 61 yard TD reception. However, this time Salem missed the kick and the Eagles stayed within a score at 26-19.
The pendulum swung back to the Eagles, as Jaylen Lee broke free for a 56 yards TD run, and this time the kick was good and it was all tied up at 26-26 with 7:49 to go. The Spartans took the kickoff and marched all the way down the field, culminating in a one yard TD run by Jones with 4:55 to go and Cross’ kick made it a seven point game at 33-26.
The pressure fell on the Salem defense to hold, but the Eagles moved the ball down the field as the clock wound down, scoring with 32 seconds on the clock to pull within one point at 33-32. That set up the “muddle huddle,” and Salem was prepared for it.
Statistically it was a much better game for the Salem offense than the season opening loss at Martinsburg. Jones rushed for 61 yards on eight carries and Peyton Lewis had 68 yards on nine attempts. Wilson was eight for 10 passing for 166 yards and three TDs. Moyer had three receptions for 74 yards, Jones had three for 77 and Allen, Ryan Coe and Jonathan Vernon had one catch each.
Defensively, Cole and Isaiah Barlow led the Spartans with 16 tackles each and both had two for losses. Coe had 11 tackles, Carter McBride and Wilson Rakes had nine each and Allen had eight.
This week the Spartans will be at home for the first time as they play host to William Fleming at Salem Stadium Friday at 7 pm. The Colonels are 0-2 with a 32-28 loss to Heritage in Lynchburg to open the season, followed by a 33-17 loss to Albemarle in Roanoke last week.
“They have good speed, good size and some excellent athletes,” said Holter. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for coach (Jamar) Lovelace. They’ll be ready to play.”
Salem’s jayvee team beat Franklin County, 26-6, at Salem Stadium last week. The Spartan jayvees are at Fleming tonight.