SALEM 49, CAVE CITY 29
Cave City and Salem were two evenly matched football teams the night of Oct. 20.
For the first, second and fourth quarters anyway.
But it was the Greyhounds that owned the all-important third quarter and ultimately the game, as Salem pushed past the visiting Cavemen 49-29 in 2-3A play at Greyhound Stadium on Homecoming 2006.
After playing to a virtual dead-heat and 22-all tie at halftime, Salem (4-4, 2-3 conference) took control of things and delivered the knockout blow by outscoring Cave City (1-6, 0-4) 21-0 in the third quarter, getting a big boost in the frame from three Cavemen turnovers. For the night Cave City turned the ball over five times, Salem twice.
It looked like a bad case of deja vu right off the bat for the Greyhounds. After suffering numerous miscues against Harding Academy in a 47-6 loss the previous week, including losing the ball on their first snap from scrimmage in their tussle with the Wildcats, the Hounds were at it again, fumbling the opening kickoff. Brad Gresham recovered this gift for the Cavemen and Cave City was in business at the Salem 23-yard line.
However, the Cavemen have been prone to lose control of the football as well this season, and on their second snap from scrimmage, Salem's Derek Estes came busting in to jar the football loose and recover it for the Greyhounds.
The dueling turnovers continued three plays later as Salem quarterback Jeff Nelson was picked off by Cave City linebacker Dylan Moody. Moody ran the interception back 59 yards for a touchdown at the 9:56 mark of the first quarter. Chase Gorman carried in the 2-point conversion and Cave City took an 8-0 lead.
Trying to seize this burst of good karma, the Cavemen attempted an onside kick, but Kenny Holland fell on the football for Salem at the Greyhound 48.
Salem couldn't convert on fourth-and-8 to keep this drive going, but on their next offensive series of the first quarter, the Hounds locked the game at 8-all.
Zach Harber (11 carries, 56 yards rushing) scored the first of his three TDs from nine yards out on first-and-goal to get points on the board for Salem. Nelson ran in the 2-point conversion to knot the contest at 8-all with 5:16 left in the first.
The Greyhound defense was opportunistic again a couple of plays later as Cave City fumbled the ball over to Salem at the Caveman 34-yard line.
Blake Hurst (eight carries, 52 yards) plunged across the goal line from a yard out to break the tie a little over a minute after Salem's first score of the night. The 2-point try was stopped, but the Hounds had moved on top 14-8 with 4:23 to play in the first.
Undaunted, Cave City answered tit-for-tat with a six-play, 52-yard scoring march on its next touch of the football. This drive was kept alive thanks to a critical penalty on the Greyhounds.
With Cave City looking at a fourth-and-5 from the Salem 44-yard line, the Greyhounds lined up offsides and the Cavemen were awarded a first down.
Justin Wilkerson (14 carries, 88 yards rushing) then broke free for a 35-yard scamper that was stopped at the Salem 4. Gorman finished things off with a touchdown blast up the middle at the 1:20 mark of the first. Cave City quarterback Brandon Milligan converted the 2-point conversion run to push the Cavemen in front 16-14 after one.
Cave City extended this lead in the second quarter as Milligan hit Moody with a nice 32-yard touchdown pass at the 8:39 mark. The 2-point attempt was no good, but Cave City had managed to pull ahead 22-14.
Just as determined, the Hounds fashioned a 10-play, 76-yard scoring drive on their next offensive series.
Hurst took an option pitch from Nelson and ran in from eight yards out on first-and-goal for Salem's answering TD. Harber took the 2-point conversion carry across the goal line to knot the game at 22-all at intermission.
As close as the first two quarters were, the third turned out to be a polar opposite of the first half with Salem climbing in the driver's seat to stay.
Nelson (10-of-16, 136 yards passing) hooked up with Harber on a 31-yard TD pass to set the wheels in motion for Salem. Clint Pleasant booted the PAT to push the Greyhounds on top 29-22. Nelson also added 65 yards rushing on five carries.
Then the Greyhound defensive troops had their say.
With the football at the Salem 46 and Cave City facing a second-and-12, Milligan dropped back to pass. Salem's Kevin Fowler used a quick move to get around the corner of the Cave City offensive and hammer the ball away from Milligan as he drew back to throw. Fowler scooped the ball off the turf and ran 50 yards for a touchdown at the 6:05 point of the third. The 2-point try was stopped, but Salem held a 35-22 advantage.
On Cave City's next possession, the Cavemen lost control of the ball once again and Estes recovered the fumble, his second of the night, to set the stage for more Greyhound points.
Nelson took care of those points, hitting Estes (four catches, 70 yards receiving) for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 4:31 left in the third. Harber carried in the 2-point conversion to boost Salem's lead to 21, 43-22.
Each side would score one touchdown in the fourth, but after Salem's big third-quarter uprising, it was just too little, too late for the Cavemen.
Harber logged the first points of the final frame on a 10-yard touchdown blast at the 6:53 point to balloon Salem's margin to 49-22.
Cave City finally found the scoreboard for the first time in the second half on a Milligan 1-yard keeper with 5:57 left to play. David Rasmussen hit the PAT, but the Cavemen were still staring at a 49-29 deficit.
It looked like Cave City might have one bullet left late, thanks to the dynamic Moody.
With 33 seconds left to play, Cave City got the football back for one last series, with maybe time for a snap or two. And the Cavemen got maximum exposure out of these touches.
Moody (12 carries, 101 yards rushing) ripped off a 72-yard run that took the ball all the way to the Salem 3-yard line as time kept on ticking.
On first-and-goal, Gorman (five carries, 18 yards rushing) hit the middle of the line but was stopped short of the goal as the horn sounded, giving Salem a 20-point victory.
The Greyhounds travel to Mayflower to tangle with the state's fourth-ranked Class 3A team on Oct. 27, while the Cavemen welcome Yellville-Summit to Cave City the same evening.