Salem's playoff run in 2011 ended in the second round when the Greyhounds fell to the Magazine Rattlers. That marked the second time in school history Salem had reached the second round of the state playoffs.
After winning the conference championship and completing a 10-0 regular season, Salem was given a bye in the first round of the playoffs. The Panthers were all that stood in the way of going to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs for the first time in school history;.While Bigelow put up a good fight in the first half, the Greyhounds would not be denied, winning the right to keep fighting.
The game started off with a 55-yard run on the first play from scrimmage by Bigelow by running back Devonta Dunlap. Salem junior Layne Kirkland stopped the Panthers from scoring first, by grabbing an interception that gave Salem the ball on their own 24 yard line.
On the first offensive play for the Greyhounds, junior quarterback Dillon Turner looked deep and found junior Heath Goodman streaking down the sideline. Goodman caught the pass, and ran the rest of the way to pay dirt, completing a 76-yard touchdown pass. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but Salem struck first witha 6-0 lead.
Bigelow took the ball at its own 47 yard line with 9:36 left in the first quarter. Three plays later, senior James Holland ran the ball in from 27 yards out to tie the game with 7:41 left in the quarter. A successful point after try gave the Panthers the lead. That was the first time Salem had trailed in a game since week three, when the Greyhounds trailed Mayflower for much of the game before eventually knocking off the Class 3A Eagles, 34-28.
Salem's next offensive drive may have had the crowd worried. On the first play, Turner was sacked for a loss of 10 yards. On the second play, junior running back J.J. Gray ran for 10 yards, but a holding penalty forced a second-and-30. Junior Augustus Freeman was stuffed on a run on the next play to bring up third-and-31. On third down, Turner threw his sixth interception of the season, but his first since throwing one against McCrory on Oct. 12.
After the interception, the Panthers only needed to drive 47 yards for a touchdown. Freeman had other plans. The team's sack leader got to the quarterback once again. This time, Freeman was also able to force a fumble and senior Zach Kauffman recovered to give Salem possession.
On Salem's next drive, the team's season flashed before its eyes as Gray took the ball on a sweep and picked up seven yards, bringing his season total to 166 carries for 1,098 yards and 12 touchdowns. After the play, Gray limped off the field, however, with the help of a teammate and didn't return to the game.
Salem Coach Cody Curtis said Gray's injury might keep him out of the third-round game, but there is still hope.
"We think he's got a pulled hamstring," Curtis said. "We'll get him some treatments this weekend, and just try to ice it and ice it and ice it. Hopefully, we'll have him back next week, but its no season ending injury or anything."
Salem eventually gave up possession after failing to convert on a fourth-down attempt. The Hounds were down one going into the second quarter.
On the first play of the second quarter, Bigelow ran the ball down to the 10. a few plays later, Bigelow quarterback Austin Turner got into the end zone on a quarterback sneak to put the Panthers up 13-6. The rest of the game was all Greyhounds.
On the 10th play of Salem's next drive, senior Nathan King ran in a ten yard touchdown to put the hounds back into the game. Salem was down only 13-12.
Goodman made another impact on Bigelow's next drive by getting his first interception of the game. With 17 seconds left in the half, the Hounds had the ball in scoring position on the one. Curtis called Salem's final timeout to talk things over. The pass play Curtis drew up failed, but Turner was able to scramble into the end zone anyway to send the Hounds into the locker room with an 18-13 lead.
Defense reigned supreme in the third quarter. The first three possession of the half were all turned over on downs. The only score of the quarter came from a bad pass by Panthers quarterback Austin Turner -- and the interception was returned for a touchdown. Kirkland got his second interception of the game on the Panthers' next drive.
At the end of the third quarter, the Greyhounds were up 26-13. In the fourth quarter, the Hounds put up 20 points. Goodman caught a 35 yard touchdown pass from Turner for the first points. Senior Blake Hensley got into the end zone twice in the fourth quarter, one was a 68-yard run; his longest run of the season. Hensley has the best yards per carry average on the team at 8.92 yards per carry on 59 runs for 526 yards and eight touchdowns.
Ultimately, the Hounds finished the game by winning 46-13.
"We came out slow in the first half, we were a little rusty. But we came out and dominated the second half, and it's one of our goals to be the better second half team every week," Curtis said.
For the first time this season, penalties affected the Hounds in a very negative way, but Curtis said the team will be able to solve that problem before the Hounds host Junction City.
"The week off hurt us in that aspect. We'll just have to be more disciplined next week," Curtis said.
On Nov. 23, Salem will host the 11-1 Junction City Dragons in the third round of the playoffs. The only common opponent these teams shared was the Marked Tree Indians. Salem crushed the Indians, 48-0, on Sept. 21. The Dragons had similar success, beating the Indians, 42-0, on Nov. 9, in the first round of the playoffs.
The Hounds will have to deal with a very high powered offense this week. The Dragons have outscored their opponents 542-61 this season. Despite putting up 40 or more points in eight of their 11 games this season, Salem has only scored 424 points this year. The Dragons have also been on a tear the last four weeks, shutting out Hermitage, Norphlet, Marked Tree, and Dierks by a total of 207-0, an average margin of 51.75 points per game.
Also not in the Hounds' favor this week is the absence of senior two-way starter David Tarpley, who was ejected from the game against Bigelow and is suspended from the Junction City game. Tarpley got involved in a skuffle started by a Bigelow player near the end of the game.