SALEM 33, WESTSIDE 13
Distance-wise, it's only a little over 82 miles from Thayer, Mo., to Jonesboro, Ark.
However, when measuring the Salem Greyhounds' week-one performance in Thayer compared to the way they played in a week-two contest in Jonesboro, the distance is at least a million miles away.
In a 39-0 shutout at the hands of the Thayer Bobcats last week, the Hounds looked every bit the part of a team trying to find its way during the early weeks of the new season.
Fast forward one Friday and Salem looked every bit the part of a team in mid-season stride, as the Greyhounds pushed past the Jonesboro Westside Warriors 33-13 Sept. 8 in non-conference football action at Warrior Field.
Handcuffed with an inability to get off the line of scrimmage, compounded with several costly turnovers, the Greyhounds just couldn't get anything going against Thayer to open the 2006 season.
The tables were completely turned in Salem's clash with Westside, as the Hounds controlled the trenches and jumped on the Warriors' lack of ball control, turning three Westside miscues into a pair of touchdown drives.
"We worked out a lot of stuff in practice that kept us from being successful against Thayer," said Greyhound Head Coach Wayne Guiltner. "And Thayer's a tough team to open the year with. They're well-coached and are a good team."
It looked like Westside (0-2) might have things in its favor in the early going, with the Warriors returning the game's opening kick all the way to the Greyhound 28-yard line.
Despite this good field position, the Hounds (1-1), in a theme that would repeat itself during the course of the night, refused to budge and forced the Warriors to punt the ball away.
The Hounds were held in place on their first series of the night and punted the ball back to Westside.
Once again the Greyhound front line dug in and gave the Warriors very little to work with, setting up a fourth-and-13 for Westside.
The Warriors punted the ball for the third time in the first five minutes of the game, but Salem was flagged for running into the kicker, giving Westside a fresh set of downs at the Greyhound 31-yard line.
Salem simply bowed up, holding Westside to no yards on three plays, forcing yet another Westside punt on fourth down.
This time, Salem made good on its grasp of the football, moving 87 yards to its first points of the brand-new season.
Zach Harber got things rolling for the Hounds, ripping off a 64-yard run that took the ball all the way to the Westside 5-yard line. A couple of plays later, Harber was rewarded for his efforts with a 2-yard TD run on third-and-goal to give Salem the early lead. The point-after was good, pushing the Greyhounds on top 7-0 at the 2:32 mark of the first. Harber carried the rock 10 times, racking up 119 yards rushing for Salem.
"Our offensive line did a great job of not only run blocking, but pass blocking, as well," said Guiltner. "And our three backs, Harber, Tyler and Hurst, all had big nights running the football."
Salem had Westside bottled up with a third-and-18 from the Warriors' 23-yard line when Kevin Fowler led a pack of Hounds after Westside quarterback Jacob Sharp, jarring the ball loose to give possession to Salem.
Salem suffered the same fate a couple of plays later, but the first quarter drew to a close with the Greyhounds still pitching a shutout at 7-0.
Two plays into the second quarter the Greyhounds extended this margin.
Lance Powell hit paydirt from two yards out on first-and-goal at the 11:43 mark of the second. The PAT was good, boosting the Greyhounds' lead to 14-0.
Westside then fashioned its best-looking drive of the evening, moving the football deep into Greyhound territory at the Salem 19, picking up 54 yards in two big plays to get the Warriors moving.
The Greyhound defense proved its worth once again, and on fourth down Salem came up huge, blocking a field goal attempt. Dustin Vaughan picked up the ball as it hit the turf and he rambled all the way to the Warriors' 19-yard line, giving his squad a big shot of momentum.
"A big part of our success was that we were able to stop them early," Guiltner said. "Really, we stopped them the whole first half. This gave us an opportunity to get things going on offense. It gave us confidence on both sides of the ball."
Not wasting this opportunity, Blake Hurst took a handoff from Jeff Nelson, broke three Westside tackles and ran all the way into the end zone from 19 yards out, pushing Salem on top 20-0 with 7:51 left until the half.
The Warriors once again managed to drive deep into Salem's side of the field, starting a lengthy drive at the six-minute mark of the second quarter.
This drive led all the way to the Hounds' 8-yard line, where Westside was faced with third-and-goal.
Ethan Pierce helped snuff out this scoring shot by breaking free long enough to knock the ball loose from Sharp, giving the Hounds possession.
Westside managed to regroup from this mistake long enough to post its first TD of the game, 38 ticks before intermission.
Trevor Moore ran for a 2-yard TD on fourth-and-goal to make the score Salem 20, Westside 7.
The Hounds, too, had their minds set on one last score of the first half.
Starting at their own 45-yard line with 25 seconds showing on the clock, the Greyhounds moved the ball down to the Warriors' 8-yard line, where they had time for one final play.
With one tick left, Nelson took the snap and scrambled to the 1-yard line, where he was pushed out of bounds as the horn went off, ending the first half with Salem in front 20-7.
The third quarter didn't start out so hot for the Greyhounds, as they fumbled the ball on their opening possession, and Westside recovered at the Salem 21.
The Warriors returned the favor 38 seconds later by putting the ball on the turf and allowing Salem to scoop it up.
Nelson (eight-of-15, 132 yards passing) then found Derek Estes for a 21-yard TD pass at the 7:41 mark of the third on a fourth-and-2, extending the Hounds' advantage to 27-7.
Harber logged his second touchdown carry of the season with a little over six minutes left in the game, a four-yard run that made the score 33-7, Salem.
Westside got its only other touchdown of the evening with 4:22 left in the fourth quarter on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Sharp to Jon Edwards that rounded out the final count in Salem's impressive 33-13 victory.
"The whole team just played well. The guys blocked well, they tackled well, it was just a good all-around effort," said Guiltner.
The Hounds get to play in front of the home fans in Greyhound Stadium for the first time in 2006 as they welcome the Southside Southerners to town Sept. 15.
Southside, in its first year of varsity football, stands at 2-0 with victories over Westside (18-13) and Cave City (43-22).