Down 24-13 at the half, Salem “just kept playing” at Amherst County last Friday night and ended up with a big opening night win. The Spartans outscored the Lancers 25-0 in the second half and kept playing until the final horn.
“I’m proud of how we found a way to win,” said Magenbauer. “We overcame a halftime deficit. I told them at halftime to just keep playing. If you play hard, good things will happen.”
Some good things happened in the first half as well, but not as many. Amherst had the ball first but Salem’s Joseph Quinn picked off a pass on third and long as Da’Jon Cardwell nailed Lancer quarterback Keshon Turner just as he was turning the ball loose, causing it to flutter into the secondary.
Salem came right down and scored, needing just two minutes and three seconds on the drive with quarterback Jack Gladden hitting a wide open Luke Owen with a 38 yard TD pass. That’s how it stood after the first period and things seemed to be going as usual for the Spartans.
Things turned around in the second quarter. The Lancers drove inside the 20 but Salem’s defense held and Amherst settled for a field goal to make it 7-3. The Spartans quickly answered when Gladden found Viante Tucker in the flat, and the speedy senior turned it into a 70 yard touchdown.
“That was just a great play by Viante,” said Magenbauer. “Several of their players had the angle on him.”
Salem missed the extra point after a bad snap and it was 13-3.
The Lancers came right back with a big play of their own on the next series. Turner found Devonte Smith behind the defense and the hookup went 64 yards to cut the lead to 13-10 with 8:28 remaining in the half. Amherst then put two more scores on the board before the half on a nine yard run and a seven yard pass play with just seconds remaining in the half.
The Spartans got the ball first in the second half and drove inside the 20, but settled for a 35 yard field goal by Nate Craft to cut the lead to 24-16. The defense held and the Spartans turned it over to Gladden and Tucker.
Jack found Viante at midfield for a 40 yard gain, giving Salem the ball on the Amherst 44. Then Gladden lobbed it toward the goal line, where Viante was double covered. However, the ball slipped through the first defender’s hands and Tucker was able to snare it. He avoided the second man and walked into the end zone for a stunning score. Salem went for two and Gladden hit Avery Close in the end zone to tie the game at 24-24 with 4:19 remaining in the third quarter.
“Viante sort of took over for us,” said Magenbauer. “He made huge plays in big moments, just like he usually does.”
Craft kicked the ensuing kickoff into the end zone for a touchback, setting up another big play. Turner mishandled a snap and James Newby recovered on the two. Tae Hale then punched it in and the Spartans had their first lead of the half at 31-24.
It was a lead Salem would not relinquish. Owen scored an insurance touchdown with 7:37 to go on a 31 yard run in which he just refused to go down, and the Spartan defense finished off a half in which they held the Lancers scoreless.
Tucker finished with 232 yards on five receptions, and the 232 yards receiving may be a Salem record.
“I know I’ve never had a receiver get over 200 yards in a game,” said Magenbauer.
Owen had two catches for 40 yards and Hale, Quinn and Close had one reception each as Gladden passed for 282 yards in his first varsity start. He was nine for 13 with three touchdown passes and one interception.
“I thought Jack was impressive,” said Magenbauer. “He hung in the pocket exceptionally well. I’m real proud of his progress.”
Owen led the rushing with 82 yards on nine carries, an average of just over nine yards per attempt. Hale had 24 yards on 10 carries.
On defense, Quinn had seven tackles and nine assists to go with an interception. Nick Wade, Bobby Pinello and Tucker had five solos each and Wade had eight assists.
The Spartans will now turn their attention to their home opener this Friday against Franklin County. There will be plenty of familiar faces on the other sideline as the Eagles are coached by former Spartan assistant, and Salem resident, JR Edwards. He has three former Salem players assisting him, Ryan “Bubba” Murphy, Daniel Dyer and Clint Peregoy. Dyer is Salem’s current varsity lacrosse coach.
“It will be interesting to play them,” said Magenbauer, as the Eagles are back on the schedule after a two year hiatus. Salem opened the 2014 season with a 45-0 win over Franklin in Salem, and in 2013 Salem won 38-0 in Franklin County on the first week of the season.
The Eagles were 4-6 last year after going 0-10 in Edwards’ first year, 2015. JR knew he was taking on a rebuilding project at a school that has struggled before and after Salem’s Billy Miles worked wonders in Rocky Mount after leaving Salem as an assistant at the turn of the century. The Eagles opened with a 33-14 loss to Liberty.
Salem’s jayvee team opened with a 42-7 win over Amherst last week. The jayvees will be at Franklin County tonight.
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