SALEM 13, THAYER 54
It was the homestanding Salem Greyhounds that had the new-look, no-huddle Spread offense.
But it was the visiting Thayer Bobcats that found nirvana, clicking with a deadly, quick-strike offense to knock off Salem 54-13 in season-opening gridiron action Aug. 31 at Greyhound Stadium.
The game started almost a half hour late thanks to a couple of blown highline transformers between the local Dairy Queen and Greyhound Stadium, and when power was finally restored, it was the Cats whose battery packs were fully charged.
While there's little doubt the Greyhounds (0-1) will get comfortable and find success in their new no-huddle offensive scheme, on opening night it was Thayer (1-0) that pushed all the right buttons, moving up-and-down the field with ease. For the game, the Hounds posted 116 yards of total offense (44 on the ground; 71 through the air), while the Cats carved out 266 yards on the ground and another 61 passing.
Thayer's Michael Lowther had his customary large night, racking up 136 yards rushing on 13 carries, basically playing just three quarters, while he also ran back a punt for 51 yards, part of his four TDs in the annual Border Battle with Salem.
A heaping helping of credit also goes to Thayer's defensive front in the game. Although Salem's struggles on offense were rooted in growing pains from getting its players on the same page in the no-huddle, the Bobcats' defensive line was seemingly in the Greyhounds' backfield all night long, often times getting there just as the shotgun snap reached quarterback Skylar Jones' hands.
It sure didn't take long to establish that fact.
On the third snap of their opening possession, the Hounds fumbled the football and Thayer's Luke Martin hopped on it at the Salem 22-yard line, giving the Cats a short field.
Three plays later, Lowther ran in from six yards out at the 10:53 mark for Thayer's first TD of the 2007 season. Ethan Leisenring's point-after try was blocked, but Thayer held a 6-0 lead.
After a three-and-out series on offense from Salem, Thayer took the football and went 60 yards in two plays, 50 coming on a touchdown tote from Lowther, to extend its advantage with 8:46 left in the first quarter. The Bobcats' 2-point attempt was snuffed, leaving Thayer in front 12-0.
Up by two touchdowns early, Thayer had no plans of slowing up on either side of the football.
Holding Salem to another three-and-out, forcing the Greyhounds to punt, the Bobcats got their hands back on the pigskin and quickly took care of business.
This time in was Josh Huckabee (six carries, 39 yards rushing) that found the end zone, scoring on a second-and-goal from the Salem 4-yard line. Leisenring booted the PAT and with 4:15 still remaining in the first quarter, Thayer had shocked its hosts by bulling out to a 19-0 lead.
But Thayer was still not finished.
Special teams, a sore spot for the Cats last year, looked sharp to start the new season, as Lowther ran a Salem bunt back 51 yards for a TD with 1:58 left in the first, pushing the Hounds further into a hole. With Leisenring's point-after kick, Thayer extended its advantage to 26-0.
Even when they went backward, the Cats still came out smelling like a rose on this night.
On Thayer's first touch of the second quarter, Salem's Blake Hurst managed to get his arms around Thayer quarterback Jacob Eckman and toss him for a seven-yard loss on third down.
No problem. On fourth-and-10 from the Greyhound 30, Eckman (four-for-four, 61 yards passing) dumped off a screen pass to Luke Martin over the middle, and Martin did the rest, running in from 30 yards out for the Bobcats' fourth touchdown in four possessions. The PAT was no good, but with 9:09 left until intermission, the Bobcats were firmly in control with a 32-0 lead.
But not everything went according to the Bobcats' wishes.
Thayer did get a bit careless with the pigskin in the second quarter, as Salem racked up a pair of takeaways before halftime.
The first came when Kevin Fowler snatched a Thayer fumble on first-and-10 from the Salem 39.
This turnover seemed to energize the Greyhounds, as they turned the miscue into their first points of the season.
Jones hooked up with Hurst on a 26-yard touchdown pass with 3:40 left in the stanza. Jason Huff hit the point-after kick to make it Thayer 32, Salem 7.
Looking for more before the half, the Hounds used a successful onsides kick, recovered by Ethan Pierce and Fowler, to get the football back into their grasp.
The ensuing possession ended with a fourth-down play coming up short of the first-down sticks, but the Greyhound defense was still on call.
On Thayer's last offensive series of the first half, Salem recorded its second fumble recovery, this one by Darrell Johnson with a shade over a minute left to play.
Salem couldn't do anything with the turnover, and the two sides went to intermission with Thayer enjoying a 32-7 lead.
Thayer tacked two more scores onto its total in the third quarter.
But not before Salem finally made the Bobcats punt for the first time of the evening, aided by an Ethan Pierce sack of Eckman on third down at the Thayer 24.
After Cody Ary notched Thayer's second fumble recovery of the game, falling on the ball at the Greyhound 11-yard line, Lowther found paydirt once again with a 6-yard touchdown plunge. Leisenring's PAT kick split the uprights, moving Thayer ahead by a count of 39-7.
In a case of bad deja vu for the Hounds, less than a minute later, Salem coughed up the football once again.
Luke Martin logged his second takeaway of the game, recovering a Salem fumble deep in Greyhound territory to set up the Cats' next score.
On second-and-8 from the Salem 17, Huckabee posted his second TD tote, this one coming with 3:57 showing on the third-quarter clock. The point-after kick gave Thayer a 46-7 lead heading into the final 12 minutes of play.
Not ready to fold and run, the Greyhounds did find the end zone once more in the season opener.
Using an eight-play drive, Salem moved 55 yards down the field and Corey Tyler got his first TD of 2007 with a five-yard scamper on second-and-goal. Huff's PAT was no good, leaving Salem down 46-13.
Thayer closed the book on the contest with a five-yard touchdown from Cameron Carey with 1:28 left in the game, setting the final score at Thayer 54, Salem 13.