SALEM 32, SOUTHSIDE 24
Sooner or later, the new car smell of the Southside Southerners' football program was bound to wear off.
In their first year of varsity football, the Southerners had opened the 2006 season with wins over Westside and Cave City in weeks one and two, showing off an offense capable of striking quickly and putting points on the scoreboard in bunches in the process.
And while Southside did manage to move the football against Salem, it was the Greyhounds' offense that had all the look and feel of the latest model rolling off the showroom floor Sept. 15 at Greyhound Stadium in their home-opener.
Using a crunching ground game that accounted for nearly 300 yards and saw four players gain 45 yards or more rushing, Salem topped Southside 32-24, handing the Southerners their first-ever Friday night loss.
As was the case in their win over Westside in week two, Salem, in its victory over the Southerners had all the earmarks of a team built for success on both sides of the football.
While Salem's (2-1) offense was able to put together a series of long drives that ate up the clock on offense, the Hounds' defense bent, but didn't really break, against the Southerners' no-huddle offense. While the Greyhounds did give up some yardage, and Southside (2-1) found the soft spot in Salem's defensive backfield to connect on several long passes, Southerner quarterback Dean Rawlings was under constant pressure all night long.
Rawlings was picked off twice by Derek Estes, once by Lance Powell; he was sacked three times for losses by Brad Segura and once by Kevin Fowler. Fowler also stripped the ball from Rawlings' grasp, giving the Hounds four takeaways on the evening.
"We did a lot of stunts with our defensive line," said Greyhound Head Coach Wayne Guiltner. "We twisted our outside guys to get to their quarterback, and when he found open receivers, our secondary did a good job keeping them from getting loose."
To illustrate this point, it was Salem's defense that got the Hounds going early in the first quarter.
On the Southerners' second snap of the night, Segura dropped Rawlings at the Southside 29-yard line, giving Southside a third-and-11.
Estes then recorded his first interception of the game, snatching Rawlings' pass and taking it to the Southerner 15-yard line.
Two plays later, Zach Harber stood in the end zone for the first score of the night. The PAT was no good, but Salem had jumped on top 6-0 with 6:42 left in the first. Harber used 16 carries to rack up 76 yards rushing on the night.
Southside jumped right into the fray with a 12-play, 57-yard TD drive on its next possession. This drive was capped by a five-yard touchdown run from Justin Moser at the 1:59 point of the first. Moser also carried in the 2-point conversion to give the Southerners an 8-6 lead.
The Southerners' defense stepped to the forefront early in the second quarter, as Tyson Franks picked off Greyhound quarterback Jeff Nelson (51 yards passing) to stop a drive that had reached the Southside 25-yard line.
Fowler snuffed out any chance the Southerners had of converting that pick into points, when he jarred the ball loose from a scrambling Rawlings six plays later.
But the Greyhound defense was only getting warmed up.
After Salem turned the ball over on downs, Southside got the ball back for two disastrous snaps.
The first resulted in a seven-yard loss as Segura brought down Rawlings in the Southside backfield.
The second was even worse for the Southerners, as Estes picked off Rawlings for the second time on the night, only this time he didn't stop running until he had rambled 30 yards for a touchdown. The 2-point try was stopped, but the Hounds had climbed back on top 12-8 with 4:37 left until the half.
The Greyhound defense sunk its teeth into Rawlings one final time before intermission.
Fowler chased down Rawlings, dropping him for a 17-yard loss on Southside's last possession of the first half, keeping Salem ahead 12-8 at the break.
The second half was all about keeping it on the ground for the Greyhounds.
Behind a steady dose of Harber, Blake Hurst, Corey Tyler and Nelson, the Greyhounds went 89 yards in nine plays, all rushes, on their first series of the second half, to hold the lead for good.
Nelson scampered across the goal line from five yards out on second-and-goal at the 3:11 mark of the third. Harber carried the 2-point conversion in to give his team a 20-8 advantage. Tyler had 10 carries for 51 yards, with Hurst adding 45 yards on seven carries. Nelson did the bulk of the damage on the ground for the Hounds, slicing through the Southside defense for 101 yards on 11 quarterback keepers.
"In the first half, we saw that the veer option was open," said Guiltner. "When their end would follow Harber, Jeff was able to read that and pick up some big yards on keepers. We probably ran that 10 times in the second half."
Southside did find the end zone with just over a minute left in the third, as Rawlings converted a fourth-and-2 from the Salem 4-yard line into 6 points. David Landers kicked the extra point to pull Southside within five, down 20-15, with 1:06 left in the third.
Southside then tried an onsides kick, but Salem recovered the football at its own 48, giving the Hounds excellent field position to start the final frame.
Salem made good on this by moving 52 yards for a score.
Nelson logged his second rushing TD of the night, plunging across the goal line from one yard out on second-and-goal. The PAT was no good, but Salem had built a 26-15 advantage at the 7:55 point of the fourth.
"We knew our offensive line was bigger than their defensive line," Guiltner said. "Our offensive line played really well; they were able to open any kind of hole they wanted. And our receivers kept their defense from stacking the line against us."
The Greyhounds stretched this to 32-15 on an 11-yard touchdown pass, Salem's only throw of the second half, from Nelson to Dustin Vaughan with 4:35 left in the contest.
Powell stopped the Southerners' next drive with a pick of Rawlings, but Southside did find the scoreboard with under two minutes left to play.
Nelson was sacked in the end zone for a safety on the Hounds' next possession, and then Moser returned the ensuing kickoff from Salem all the way to the Salem 4-yard line.
Three plays later, Rawlings hit Moser with a 4-yard TD pass at the 1:23 point of the fourth. The PAT pulled Southside within eight, down 32-24.
Needing an onsides kick to get the ball back, the Southerners made a critical error when the football didn't travel the required 10 yards, giving the ball to Salem at the Southerners' 43-yard line, allowing the Hounds to run the clock down for an 8-point non-conference victory over Southside.
Salem opens 2-3A Conference play with a trip to Perryville Sept. 22.