Part of the good news for the Salem Greyhounds going into their Sept. 5 season opener at Thayer revolved around a pair of players that were available for the contest after they had basically been counted out of action.
Senior linebacker Brian Crow, who suffered a severe knee sprain the previous week in a scrimmage against Highland, was cleared to play, helping Salem's depth on the defensive side of the ball.
On the offensive side of things, senior running back Rick Cowart, who had left the team in pre-season practice because of a conflict in his work schedule, rejoined the team Sept. 2 after working things out with his employer. Cowart's 300 yards rushing from last season makes him the Hounds' most experienced tailback.
More good news for Salem came in the game at Thayer as the Greyhounds held the Bobcats to under 20 yards rushing in the contest.
The bad news for Salem -- they were without senior fullback Woody Harlow who sustained a concussion in the Highland scrimmage, and the Greyhounds gave up 261 yards through the air to Thayer that, coupled with a couple of breakdowns on special teams play, proved costly as the Bobcats won 43-21 in the opener.
Part of Salem's problem with Thayer's passing game lies in the absence of Greyhound junior defensive back Mike Innis, who is bothered by a nagging hamstring injury, and is expected to miss at least four weeks of action.
"I was pleased with our defensive effort up front," Greyhound Head Coach Wayne Guiltner said. "To stop the run like we did is big. Most of the teams in our conference like to run the ball, so I think we're ready for that."
Aided by a roughing-the-kicker penalty on fourth-and-4 from the Greyhound 47, the Bobcats (1-0) struck quickly at the 9:56 mark of the first as Bobcat junior quarterback Andrew Eckman fired a 1-yard TD strike to senior Brandon Cotham.
Junior Jesse Gaines punched the ball in for the two-point conversion to give Thayer an 8-0 lead.
The Bobcats got their first look at Salem's elusive junior quarterback Phillip Taylor (7-for-19, 32 yards passing) as the Greyhounds (0-1) marched downfield into Bobcat territory on their first offensive possession.
Taylor, who added 47 yards rushing on 10 carries, bobbed-and-weaved his team to the Bobcat 29 before the drive stalled out.
The Greyhound defense then had a chance to prove their mettle as Thayer rolled the dice on fourth-and-19 from their own 15, pulling out a fake punt with a direct snap to Eckman. Although he gained 13 yards on the play, Salem took over on downs at the Bobcat 32-yard line.
Taylor handed the ball off to junior Lynn Harber (four carries, 40 yards) on a counter play, and 32 yards later, Salem closed within two points, 8-6, as Harber crossed the goal line with 3:53 left in the first.
It was sophomore quarterback Brett Ward's turn to flash his wares for Thayer on their next offensive series, and he did just that by capping a three-play, 73-yard drive by hitting sophomore wideout John Tollenaar for a 58-yard TD pass at the 2:33 mark of the first, moving the Bobcats in front 15-6.
A pair of big plays by the Bobcats' special teams late in the second quarter took the wind out of the Greyhounds' sails, putting them into a further hole.
Senior defensive back Brandon Cotham slipped into the Greyhound backfield and blocked a punt with the Bobcats recovering the ball at the Greyhound 25.
After Eckman hit fellow quarterback, running back and wideout Ward (50 yards receiving) for a 23-yard gain, senior tight end Carl Hunter (54 yards receiving) was the recipient of Eckman's second TD toss of the evening, putting Thayer in front 23-6 with 3:16 left until halftime.
Proving trouble can come in twos, the Greyhounds fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving the ball back to Thayer with under 2:00 to play in the quarter.
Four plays later, Eckman converted his third score on the night as he slid across the end zone on a quarterback keeper that staked Thayer to a comfortable 29-6 lead at the break.
A similar one-two punch of plays late in the third quarter put the game on ice for the Bobcats.
With Ward at the helm, the Bobcats moved 60 yards downfield, ending with a four-yard TD run by senior running back Dustin Hatterman, giving Thayer a 36-6 lead.
Once again special teams failed the Greyhounds as they couldn't hang onto the following kickoff, allowing Thayer to set up camp at the Salem 25.
Three plays later, Hunter took a screen pass from Ward and rumbled 25 yards for his second score of the game.
"We played great special teams all game long except for our kicking game," Guiltner said. "We just couldn't hang on to the ball. We fumbled three times and lost two of them."
With Thayer in control 43-6 after three quarters, the Greyhounds looked to end the game on a positive note with a pair of late scores. Taylor hit paydirt first on a 3-yard quarterback scramble for a TD. Harber tacked on the two-point conversion with Salem trailing 43-14 with 5:16 left in the game.
The Greyhounds finished the game with 209 yards rushing.
Senior Rick Cowart, held out of action until the second half, logged Salem's last score of the period on an eight-yard TD run with 1:36 left in the game to make the final score 43-21, Thayer. Cowart led the Greyhound rushing attack with 10 carries for 76 yards.
"It was good to get Rick some reps. He's almost in game shape," Guiltener said.
The Greyhounds open the conference season Sept. 12 as they travel to Marked Tree.
"They like to run the ball 75 percent of the time, and even though they lost their big running back from last year, I'm sure they'll stick to the run against us," said Guiltner. "I feel confident about our ability to stop the run after the Thayer game, so they'll have to go through our big, strong front if they want to run."