SALEM 8, MARKED TREE 28
Heading into their Sept. 9 matchup with Marked Tree, the Salem Greyhounds knew full well what to expect.
After all, even though the Indians had fallen back to earth the past couple of seasons after a string of five straight 3AA Conference titles, they were still a potent bunch who churn out most of their offense on the ground.
And a healthy dose of the Marked Tree ground attack was what the Hounds got, as the Indians took the conference opener for both squads with a 28-8 win at Marked Tree.
A week after gaining 140 yards and three TDs on 13 carries in a 32-6 win over McCrory, Marked Tree tailback Brian Coleman toted the ball 17 times against Salem for 144 yards and two scores, while fullback Patrick Powell tallied 137 yards against the Hounds after posting 138 in week one at McCrory.
While it looked like Marked Tree (2-0, 1-0 3AA) had its way on offense, the Greyhound defense was anything but passive, as Salem (0-2, 0-1) took the ball away from the Indians five times during the contest, including two fumble recoveries by sophomore linebacker Ethan Pierce.
"I thought we've played really good defense the first two weeks of the season," said Salem Head Coach Ed Kelley. "I don't think the score of this game (Marked Tree) and the Thayer game really show what kind of effort the kids gave."
Unfortunately for the Greyhounds, they just couldn't convert these takeaways into points.
"We're kind of anemic on offense right now," Kelley said. "We've had a few bright spots but just can't seem to move the football like we are capable of doing."
It didn't take long for Thomas Cooper, Salem's All-State performer, to introduce himself to the Indians once again. Cooper popped Powell hard on Marked Tree's first series from scrimmage, knocking the ball loose for the Hounds to jump on.
A couple of penalties on Salem's first touches on offense stalled the drive, and the teams swapped possessions before Marked Tree hit the scoreboard first with 2:38 left in the first quarter.
"We had some penalties that really ended up costing us. It was like one step forward and two steps back for us," Kelley said.
Coleman streaked downfield 72 yards from the Indians' own 28 to hit paydirt in one play. The PAT was good, and Marked Tree led 7-0 after one.
Another big play set up the Indians' second TD just a couple of minutes inside the start of the second quarter.
Powell ripped off a big run that took the ball to the Greyhound 6-yard line. One snap later Coleman had his second touchdown of the evening at the 10:36 point. The PAT was wide of the mark and the Indians' advantage stood at 13-0.
After a Greyhound punt on Salem's next offensive series, Marked Tree struck once again, this time by air, as quarterback William Ruthven hit Robert Tyree on a 39-yard scoring strike that came with 7:38 left until the half. With the 2-point conversion, the Indians extended their margin to 21-0.
Although they touched the football just two times on offense during the second quarter, one of those series started at the Marked Tree 35-yard line, thanks to an Indian fumble that the Hounds scooped up at the 4:11 mark.
Salem marched to the Marked Tree 20, but the drive fizzled out with 24 ticks left in the first half, leaving the Hounds in a 21-point hole at intermission.
The Greyhounds' next chance at points came four minutes into the third, when Pierce caused and recovered a Marked Tree fumble at the Indians' 41-yard line.
This ray of light didn't shine long, with Salem giving the ball right back on a turnover. Marked Tree cashed in with a march toward the Hounds' end zone that ended when Ruthven sneaked across from a yard out on third-and-goal with 2:03 left in the third. The PAT pushed the Indians on top 28-0.
With time still left in the third, the Hounds got a big gainer on fourth-and-2 from midfield when quarterback Chad Willett hit Trevor Stafford on an 18-yard pass that placed the ball at the Marked Tree 35 with 31 ticks on the third-quarter clock.
As the final frame began, a personal foul penalty on the Indians helped the Hounds move the ball to the Marked Tree 10. However, four plays later, Salem turned the ball back over to the Indians on downs, negating the Greyhounds' deepest trip into enemy territory to that point of the night.
Marked Tree gave the football back to the Hounds two series later, as Salem's John Welch picked up a fumbled quarterback/center exchange by the Indians.
Once again, the Greyhounds had the ball for just one play after a big turnover, as Salem fumbled the ball back to Marked Tree 16 seconds later.
The turnover merry-go-round was still spinning full force, with Pierce logging his second caused fumble and recovery of the game, at the 1:39 mark, after the Indians had marched into Salem's turf.
The Hounds made sure Marked Tree's fifth miscue translated into points as Salem prevented the shutout with a touchdown.
Willett hit Derek Estes with a nice pass that pushed the football to the Marked Tree 37 with less than a minute left in the game.
Five plays later, on third-and-3 from the 18, Willett crossed the goal line on a quarterback keeper with six seconds showing on the clock. Willett then found Dustin York in the end zone for the 2-point conversion that set the final score of 28-8, Marked Tree.
"I'm encouaged that we have enough athletes, and we've shown a glimmer of hope that we can turn around our offensive problems. We'll be making some corrections this week," said Kelley. "We had three drives killed by lapses in focus or concentration, and I think the kids will get that corrected."