SALEM 12, GENTRY 25
When the Salem Greyhound and visiting Gentry Pioneers lined up against each other at Greyhound Stadium Sept. 16, they might as well have been looking into a mirror.
With two games apiece under their belts on the young season, the Greyhounds and Pioneers were both looking to find a consistent offensive attack to help take pressure off their respective defenses.
And while it may not have been a work of art, Gentry did manage to string together three nice-looking touchdown drives on the evening, including two in the first quarter, as the Class AAA Pioneers (2-1) kept Salem (0-3) winless on the year with a 25-12 victory.
Heading into their matchup in Fulton County, the Hounds and Pioneers were both trying to shake off lethargic week two performances on the offensive side of the ball.
While its defense had kept the explosive Marked Tree Indians from running completely over it, Salem had managed just one late touchdown the previous week, while Gentry had to overcome a host of drive-killing penalties and three turnovers to beat Lamar 3-0 on a 26-yard field goal in the second game of the season.
It looked for awhile like those same penalties might derail the Pioneers in Salem, as Gentry was called for an illegal procedure penalty on the opening kickoff of the contest. For the night the Pioneers were whistled for 12 infractions, while the Hounds were flagged six times.
After Salem did manage to get the kick from Gentry to start the game, the Greyhounds didn't hang onto the ball long, fumbling it to the Pioneers at their own 39, setting Gentry up with a short field for its first offensive series of the night.
It took just six plays for the Pioneers to dent the scoreboard, with quarterback Matt Pierce connecting with Jimmy Hancock for a 29-yard TD pass on fourth-and-17 at the 6:58 mark of the first quarter. Cody Ponder was stopped short of the end zone on the 2-point attempt, but Gentry had grabbed a 6-0 lead.
The Pioneers' next possession on offense also started in Salem territory, at the 49-yard line, as Gentry looked to extend its first-quarter advantage.
Fashioning an eight-play drive, the Pioneers hit paydirt when Derek Corder crossed the goal line from seven yards out with 2:43 left in the first. Corder paced the Pioneers' ground attack with 119 yards rushing on 19 carries. The 2-point conversion was nullified, but Gentry took a 12-0 lead into the second quarter.
"We give up those two scores early, and we're in a hole," said Greyhound Head Coach Ed Kelley. "If we don't let them have those two, we're right in it."
The Greyhounds did answer in the second, as defensive back Wes James picked off a Drew Babcock pass one play inside the quarter's start.
Putting together their best-looking drive of the season, the Greyhounds marched 55 yards downfield in nine plays to get on the scoreboard. Quarterback Chad Willett (seven carries, 34 yards rushing) dove into the end zone on second-and-goal from the 1-yard line at the 8:30 mark. The 2-point conversion was stopped, leaving the Hounds in a 12-6 hole.
After the Salem defense forced the first Gentry punt of the night, the Pioneers got their hands back on the ball thanks to a Babcock interception of Willett, a turnover that Gentry quickly converted into points.
Babcock (41 yards rushing) burst across the goal line from two yards out with 4:21 left until the half to wrap up a six-play, 44-yard scoring drive for Gentry. The PAT was wide of the mark, but the Pioneers had boosted their margin to 18-6.
The remaining four minutes of the first half saw a parade of turnovers, as Salem recovered two Pioneer fumbles, and Gentry picked off Willett for the second time on the night.
Neither squad could do anything with these miscues, and Gentry held serve 18-6 at the half, with Willett getting a bit of revenge by picking off Babcock right before intermission.
Gentry's last score of the game started in the waning minutes of a scoreless third quarter.
Starting at their own 23, the Pioneers started a lengthy drive that chewed up a good deal of clock and extended into the final frame.
Moving 77 yards in 17 plays, Gentry got a 5-yard TD carry from Corder, his second score of the night, at the 9:26 mark of the fourth to stretch its lead. The PAT made the score 25-6, Pioneers.
"Our speed paid off," said Gentry Head Coach Jeff Stewart. "We're a little bit faster than they were."
Not yet done, the Hounds manufactured an impressive drive of their own the next time they touched the ball.
Backed up in the shadows of their own goal posts, the Greyhounds took the ball 81 yards in 12 plays to keep their hopes alive.
Willett (15/27 147 yards passing) hit James from six yards out with 4:27 left on a third-and-goal. The 2-point attempt failed, and Salem trailed 25-12.
With one last gasp, the Greyhounds attempted an on-sides kick, but the Pioneers recovered and ran out the clock on Gentry's 13-point victory.
Derek Estes posted 35 yards of receiving for the Hounds, with Dustin Vaughn adding 34 and Dustin York 20. Zack Harber carried the ball six times for 28 yards for Salem.