by Andy Hilton, recruit757
Salem struggled on Friday night, eventually outlasting Grassfield and relying on a game saving play. Quarterback Bucky Hodges was benched for the second game in a row with a hand injury. Backup quarterback Torrance Brown was out with a shoulder injury. Running back Torron Person is out with an ACL injury. That forced Salem Head Coach Robert Jackson to innovate.
Grassfield had some injury adjustments to make too. Star running back Vincent Lowe had been out since the Oscar Smith game, but the Grizzlies have relied on Marcus Mitchell and Isaiah Harper to carry the load.
The two teams battled all night, working their way to a thrilling finish at Salem. The SunDevils opened the scoring in the second quarter with a Daijon Bland three-yard touchdown run. The PAT was blocked, but Salem found themselves ahead, finally, at 6-0.
Salem’s defense held the Grizzlies down for most of the first half, but found themselves pinned at their 10 yard line and forced to punt. A weak, 28-yard kick was returned by Tyler McKenzie for a score, giving the Grizzlies a tenuous 7-6 lead at halftime. The second half would be even more exciting.
Where Salem struggled in the first half to generate offense, they suddenly were sparked by moving wide receiver Kwamane Bowens into the quarterback position as a threat in the wildcat formation. Salem jumped back on top early in the third quarter when Bowens ripped off a 46-yard touchdown run. The two point conversion failed, putting the SunDevils in the lead at 12-7, but that wouldn’t last long.
Early in the fourth quarter, Grassfield answered when Marcus Mitchell scored on a run from four yards out. The two-pointer failed, giving Grassfield a narrow 13-12 lead.
Salem responded with an eight-play, 45-yard drive sparked by Daijon Bland’s kickoff return and capped by Andre Toran’s one-yard touchdown run that put Salem ahead again, but only by a score of 18-13 with 5:04 left in the game.
In their final possession, Grassfield had some momentum going. They were mounting a comeback. Marcus Mitchell broke free on a run that would have won the game for the Grizzlies, but SunDevil running back/defensive back Tioreon Land ripped the ball from Mitchell, deep in SunDevil territory. Salem recovered, sat on the ball, and rode out the final seconds of the game for a heart-stopping win.
The SunDevils now move on to face Oscar Smith in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Region Division 6 Final. Smith led that game 35-7 early on, but had to turn back a SunDevil comeback to hang on for a 35-34 victory. Oscar Smith defeated Bayside on Friday night, 35-12, in a game where the Tigers outlasted the Marlins and pulled away late.
– Andy Hilton