Salem found itself in a shootout with Wesleyan Friday night, until it shot itself in the foot in a 38-19 road loss.
The game started out high-flying and explosive with both teams moving at will in the first half.
The second half continued the trend, with Wesleyan opening up the third quarter on a 40-yard touchdown pass from Will Anderson to Sam Carver for a 28-19 lead. But in the final 24 minutes, it wasn’t only efficiency by the Wolves’ offense that moved the ball and kept the scoreboard going, but also miscues by Salem. Salem also struggled to do anything of its own offensively in the second half.
“We just didn’t finish the drill,” Salem coach John Starr said. “I think the effort was there, we just didn’t execute. I really can’t explain it.”
On the fourth and final touchdown pass of the evening by Anderson, the ball slipped through cornerback Damian Gordon’s hands.
As the second half wore on, the Wolves were able to keep drives alive as Salem couldn’t bring runners down in a pile, couldn’t tackle in the open field with shoulder bumps and had costly penalties – among them a personal foul on a third down and a receiver-interference on a punt.
The Salem Seminoles (1-1) finished with five penalties for 45 yards, and gave up 409 yards of offense.
The big culprit was Anderson in the Wolves’ spread offensive attack. The junior finished with 284 yards on 21-of-29 passing, eight of those passes going to Carver for 74 yards.
“They played pretty good, but we missed too many tackles,” Starr said.
Salem, having finished with 292 yards, looked early on like it would keep up with the AA school, which scored just nine points a week ago in a one-point loss to Class A Holy Innocents.
However, the Salem Seminoles offense sputtered in the second half, managing just 20 yards, coming up with the game’s first punt and turnover.
The punt was the game’s first defensive stop, as well, with Gordon getting sacked for a 9-yard loss to bring up fourth-and-16 from Salem’s 23 on its first drive of the second half.
The turnover came as Licash Lackey was running up the field on a reverse when he was hit hard and fumbled on Salem’s 35-yard line. The fumble led to a 33-yard field goal by Rhett Delk for a 31-19 Wolves’ lead with 7:32 left in the third quarter.
Salem, which didn’t score on five possessions and zero first downs in the second half, trailed just 21-19 at halftime.
“The first half we played the way we’re supposed to but we’ve got to finish the drill,” Starr said.
The first half was a high-flying affair with both teams having their way on offense, as Salem had 11.82 yards per play and Wesleyan 8.76 in the first half. Salem ran for 180 yards and Wesleyan threw for 188.
Anderson starred for the Wolves, scoring three first-half touchdowns and Salem’s quarterback Gordon and running back Lackey scored two touchdowns each.
While the offenses were off to the races, the defenses for both teams didn’t seem like they took the field in the first half, with Wesleyan getting the only fourth down of the first two quarters, converting it.
The Wolves led 21-19 at halftime due to the fact Salem missed an extra point and couldn’t convert a two-point play.
The scoring began on Gordon’s 23-yard run to the right side, followed by Jonah Grisswald’s first kick through the uprights for the extra point and a 7-0 lead with 8:10 left in the first quarter. The drive was a dominating 80 yards on 10 plays, lasting just under four minutes.
After the Salem Seminoles marched down for the score, Wesleyan returned the favor going 74 yards on 14 plays to tie it 7-7. Will Anderson, who was 6 of 8 for 43 yards on the drive, hit Jalen Hodges for the 14-yard touchdown pass with 1:19 left in the first quarter.
It was the only series of the first half where either team had a fourth-down opportunity, with Wesleyan converting the play two-yards-to-go play on a 4-yard run.
Lackey and the Seminoles didn’t have to face a fourth down, as they eventually scored again, this time on 5-yard run but Salem missed the extra point to make it 13-7 with 8:44 left in the second quarter. Gordon had another big run on the drive, going for 52 yards.
Wesleyan again had an answer, using just three plays as Anderson connected with Jahmai Jones, who breaks three tackles for a 53-yard touchdown with 7:28 left in the second quarter.
Gordon showed he has a better-than-average arm as well on Salem’s next drive, as he and Lackey score their second touchdowns each. The score was on a 78-yard throw on a play-action call up the middle with 6:28 left in second quarter for a 19-14 lead.
Anderson threw his third touchdown pass of the first half for the final score in the first 24 minutes. Anderson hit Sam Carver for three yards on third down for a 21-19 lead.
Anderson’s 2-yard quarterback sneak with 42.2 seconds left gave Wesleyan made the final margin.
Salem travels to unbeaten Heritage Friday for the first Region 8-AAAAA matchup for both teams.
“We’ve got to execute the ball a lot better,” Starr said.