It took some patience and a little bit of re-shuffling on the defensive side of the ball in the second half, but the Thayer Bobcats came away from Salem with a 33-20 win over the Greyhounds Sept. 3 in the season opener for both teams.
After watching the Greyhounds gash the middle of their defense with runs right up the gut in the first 24 minutes of play, Thayer switched to a six-man defensive front in the second half that, along with a pair of special teams' miscues on Salem's part late, paved the way to victory in a contest that was closer than the final score indicated. The 13-point win made it three-in-a-row for Thayer in the border battle series with Salem.
While not exactly an offensive showcase, the two squads did follow the patterns they've set in recent years; Salem on the ground, Thayer through the air. The Hounds had 239 years of offense, including 175 rushing, while Thayer countered with 195 yards of total offense, with 154 coming via the pass.
For awhile it looked like the 14-all tie at the half might hold up for the duration of regulation play.
After battling through a scoreless third quarter, the Greyhounds broke through on the first play of the fourth quarter as junior quarterback Chad Willett (14 carries, 54 yards rushing) crossed into the end zone on a fourth-and-goal from the Thayer 1-yard line, capping an eight-play drive that began in the waning moments of the third. Thayer's Andrew Eckman blocked John Arrington's point-after attempt, but Salem led 20-14.
At this point, things started to go south for the Greyhounds, while the Bobcats grabbed a sliver of momentum and used it to their advantage.
Backed up in the shadows of their own goal points and faced with a fourth-and-8 on their next series after notching the go-ahead TD, the Greyhounds had little choice but to punt the ball away.
Thayer had other ideas, however. Aaron Henry broke free and wrapped up Willett at the Hounds' 4-yard line, before Salem could get the punt off, setting the Bobcats up with enviable field position.
A scant two plays later, Eckman ran into the end zone on a quarterback sneak with 6:43 left in the game. The Cats too, had their own woes on special teams, as the all-important PAT attempt sailed wide of the mark, leaving the sides deadlocked at 20-all.
With Thayer's defensive alignment geared to stop the run, the Greyhounds then went to the air a couple of series later, but not with the results they wanted.
Once again backed up deep in their own territory, Willett (8-of-15, 63 yards passing) hit a streaking Dustin Vaughn with a pass over the middle. Vaughn was immediately hit by Thayer's Michael Lowther, a hit that jarred the ball loose, allowing Brett Ward to recover it for the Bobcats at the Salem 27-yard line.
After Ward moved the ball to the 8 on a pair of carries, Eckman scampered into the end zone for his second score of the fourth quarter, giving the Bobcats a 27-20 lead with 2:15 left to play.
Thayer put the hard-fought game on ice on Salem's next possession as John Tollenaar picked off Willett and jetted 65 yards for a touchdown at the 1:18 mark to set the final score at 33-20, Bobcats.
It appeared at the game's outset that the outcome might be reversed as Thayer fumbled away the opening kickoff, a turnover that the Hounds promptly cashed into seven points.
Willett capped off a six-play, 21-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown strike to Wes James at the 8:54 mark of the first. Arrington booted the PAT to attach a quick 7-zip lead to Salem's side.
Making amends on their botched kickoff return to start the game, the Bobcats took the ensuing offering from the Greyhounds and turned it into six points.
Executing their triple-deception return perfectly, Ward got his hands on the ball and ran it for an 80-yard kickoff return at the 8:40 mark, setting up what looked to be an offensive shootout. Bradley Harper's PAT locked the score at 7-all.
The Cats tacked on another score with 45 seconds remaining in the first on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Eckman (9-of-26, 154 yards passing) to Henry. Harper's extra-point attempt put Thayer in front for the first time on the evening, 14-7.
This Bobcat-lead didn't last long as Salem tied things at 14-apiece at the 9:26 point of the second quarter.
Phillip Taylor (20 carries, 100 yards rushing) finished off a nine-play, 76-yard drive with a 3-yard run that saw the end of any scoring until early in the fourth.