SALEM 7, MARSHALL 44
With a spot in the 2006 playoffs all but out of reach, the Salem Greyhounds and Marshall Bobcats were both looking at a chance to end the season on a positive note Nov. 3 by capping the year with a victory.
The Hounds were focused on sending their seniors out in style by finishing with a .500 record for the first time in two years, while the Bobcats were set on ending the year with an even mark for the first time since the 1996 season.
In the end, it was Marshall that would have what it wanted, as the Bobcats topped Salem 44-7 in 2-3A Conference play at Greyhound Stadium.
The loss to Marshall brings Salem's season to a close with an overall mark of 4-6, 2-5 in conference play. The Bobcats wrapped up the year at 5-5 and 3-4 in conference.
This year was a case of what could have been for the Greyhounds. Had they not fallen behind by two scores or more early in the losses they suffered, forced to scramble to make up lost ground as the games wore on, the Hounds might have been the ones ending their season with a win instead of Marshall.
As it was, Salem fell into a two-touchdown hole in the first quarter and just could not climb out against the Bobcats.
Things started out rosy for Salem as Zach Harber ripped off a nifty 36-yard run on the Hounds' first snap from scrimmage, taking the football to the Bobcat 34-yard line.
But things quickly went downhill from there.
Salem lost the football on its very next snap and Marshall took over deep in its own territory.
The Bobcats fashioned a 76-yard scoring drive with this gift, getting a big 46-yard run from Cody Kelley that helped take the ball to the Salem 11-yard line.
From there, Marshall quarterback Cody Clark hit Brett Davis with a touchdown toss at the 8:20 point of the first. The PAT gave the Bobcats a 7-0 lead.
Salem's next series was about to fizzle out when the Greyhounds pulled a nice trick out of their sleeve.
After an offsides penalty on Marshall turned a fourth-and-9 at the Salem 35 into a fourth-and-2, the Greyhounds lined up in punt formation.
However, instead of punting, Harber took the football and blasted 20 yards into Marshall's side of the field, giving Salem a fresh set of downs.
This new life finally did stall out at the Bobcat 43, and the Hounds punted the football to Marshall.
Pinned at their own 10-yard line, the Bobcats simply stormed 90 yards downfield for another TD. Kelley crossed the goal line from 11 yards out for Marshall's second touchdown of the first quarter. Dustin Vaughn got his hand on the point-after kick, knocking it to the ground, but with 1:11 left in the first, the Bobcats had extended their advantage to 13-0.
The wheels really fell off the Greyhound express in the second, as Marshall posted three touchdowns in the frame, two of which came in a minute's time.
On Marshall's first snap from scrimmage in the second, Kelley burst 40 yards into the clear, taking the ball to the Salem 10-yard line.
Two plays later, he slid into the end zone from two yards out at the 7:17 mark of the second. The 2-point try was stopped, but Marshall had stretched its margin to 19-0.
Things continued to go south for Salem after that.
The Bobcats turned the ensuing kickoff into a free-for-all, and the football slipped through Salem's clutches. Marshall recovered the ball at the Greyhound 49.
After a loss of two yards on the next play, Kelley added fuel to the Bobcats' fire by snagging a screen pass and rambling for a 51-yard touchdown barely a minute after Marshall's previous score. The 2-point attempt was no good, but with 6:16 remaining in the half, Marshall stood in control of a 25-0 lead.
And there was still enough time on the clock for one last Bobcat score before intermission.
Clark tossed a 15-yard touchdown pass with 1:06 left in the second to build the Bobcats' lead to 31-0 at the break.
Salem came out with intentions to remedy this situation in the third, and the Greyhounds opened the second half of play with an onside kick they recovered at the Marshall 37-yard line.
Blake Hurst ripped off 27 yards on two carries to get the football to the Bobcat 9-yard line.
From there this promise sputtered and Marshall managed to keep Salem out of the end zone in four tries, giving the football to the Bobcats on downs.
Marshall gave the ball right back on a fumble that Salem recovered at the Bobcat 28-yard line.
Salem made it as deep as the 20 before being stopped on downs once more.
While Salem was kept off the scoreboard in the third, Marshall added to its tally with a 10-yard touchdown carry from Evan Branscum at the 4:36 mark, boosting the Bobcats' lead to 37-0 after three.
Salem finally punched the ball in early in the final frame.
On first-and-goal from the 2, Harber bullied his way into the end zone to get the Greyhounds on the board. Clint Pleasant booted the PAT, and with 9:52 left to play, Salem had avoided being shut out, although it trailed 37-7.
Marshall added one more touchdown on a 1-yard run from Branscum that came with 6:43 showing on the clock, capping the Bobcats' 44-7 win.
By virtue of its 2-3A championship, Harding Academy gets the conference's top seed in the Class 3A playoffs and a bye in the first round. The Wildcats will host the Hector/Corning winner in the second round Nov. 17.
Second-seeded Mayflower will host Atkins in first-round action Nov. 10, while Yellville-Summit (third seed) travels to Green Forest and fourth-seeded Perryville hits the road to Glen Rose.