One great start deserves one excellent finish.
Already off to their fastest start in school history, the Salem Greyhounds added to their impressive 2009 resume with a thrilling 20-16 victory over the Marked Tree Indians Oct. 16 at Greyhound Stadium.
More than just the second time in school history that Salem had defeated Marked Tree, the victory over the Indians shot the Hounds (5-1, 4-1) into a second place tie with Walnut Ridge (4-1) and Augusta (4-1) in the 3-2A Conference, easily giving Salem it's best standing in the conference this late in the season.
And it also gives the Greyhounds a leg up in their battle for a much coveted spot in the Class 2A State Tournament
But this one did not come easy.
All it took was some razzle-dazzle pulled deep from the Greyhounds' trick bag.
Trailing Marked Tree (1-6, 1-5) 16-14 with a shade over two-and-a-half minutes left in the game, the Greyhound defense, just as it had for most of the previous three quarters, came up huge. On fourth-and-6 from the Salem 25, the Indians went for it. But Adam Beard, Jason Huff and Dylan Smith slammed into Marked Tree fullback Bryant Anderson in the backfield, giving the ball to Salem on downs.
On first down, Salem quarterback Ty Berry (176 yards passing) hit Shane Travelstead with a big 19-yard pass that pushed the ball near midfield.
And two plays later, the Hounds cashed in with a spectacular play.
Definitely one to be remembered around Fulton County for a long time.
At the Marked Tree 47, Berry hit Huff (92 yards receiving) with a nice lateral swing pass behind the line of scrimmage. Huff caught the pass, loaded up and then hit Clint Ray for a 47-yard TD with 1:57 left in the game to give Salem its first lead of the game.
The Indians were no doubt shocked, but they managed to re-group long enough to stop the 2-point conversion try.
Still, Salem led 20-16 with time running out.
To seal the deal, the Greyhounds picked up an Indian fumble and ran it all the way back to the Marked Tree 7-yard line, before running out the clock on a hard-earned four-point win.
But things didn't start off on such a great note for the Hounds.
They spotted Marked Tree a two-touchdown lead in the first quarter and then had to fight uphill the rest of the evening.
On the Indians first possession of the game, they drove deep into Salem territory before Rocky Smith picked off Marked Tree quarterback T.J. Laster to stop a potential score.
But on Marked Tree's second series of the evening, Laster went in from a yard out on second-and-goal for the first touchdown of the night. Laster then hit Richie Tate with the 2-point pass to give the Indians an 8-0 lead with 4:24 left in the first quarter.
Then with 1:44 still left in the first, Anthony Smith broke free for a 41-yard touchdown down the left sideline for the Indians' second score in less than three minutes. The 2-point conversion by LaTre Daniels gave Marked Tree a 16-0 advantage after the first quarter.
But in the second quarter, the Greyhounds took the wraps off their passing attack and by airing the ball out, pulled close to the Indians.
With 6:05 left until the half, Berry hit Brandon Godfrey with an 18-yard TD pass on first-and-10 for Salem's first score of the game. Berry then ran in the 2-point conversion to narrow Marked Tree's lead to 16-8.
Salem's next series looked like it might come unraveled, thanks to a couple of costly holding penalties, but the Hounds shook that off for another second-quarter TD.
On fourth-and-12 from the Marked Tree 14, Berry tossed a pass in the end toward Huff. The speedy Huff got a hand on the ball, slowing it down long enough to pull it in for a touchdown with 1:27 remaining until intermission.
The 2-point try was no good, but Salem had pulled within two, 16-14, at the break. Huff picked off Laster on the last play of the first half for good measure.
And although they did give up two early scores to the Indians, the Greyhounds played lights-out defense in the second half and kept Marked Tree out of the end zone, paving the way for the dramatic double-pass touchdown late in the fourth.
Things don't get any easier for the Greyhounds in the last three weeks of the season. Salem travels to Cross County, plays host to Augusta and then visits McCrory, with all four teams battling for conference positioning and a slot in the state playoffs.
McCrory leads the 3-2A Conference with a 5-0 record, 7-0 overall.