By ADAM PRUIETT
All of the sudden, Brooks Howell got red hot. Everything the Silver Creek senior quarterback was throwing was on the money. If he was a little off, his receivers were catching everything in sight.
But that didn’t happen until the fourth quarter Friday night against visiting Salem.
By then, the Lions had used a punishing ground game to build a 21-6 lead, and the Dragons ultimately couldn’t recover in falling 21-20 in the teams’ Mid-Southern Conference opener.
Silver Creek (1-1, 0-1 MSC) was hoping to find itself atop the league standings for the first time since the varsity program was reinstated two years ago. Salem (1-1, 1-0) had other ideas, bumping its series lead to 4-0 against the Dragons.
Credit the Lions’ ground game and an admirable effort on defense for that. Quarterback Jordan McNeely attempted only eight passes the entire game. However, he ran for 76 yards on 23 carries and bruising fullback Collin Badger added 97 yards rushing on 22 attempts. The Lions rolled up 227 yards rushing for the game, a stark contrast to the 69 of the Dragons.
Not surprisingly, Silver Creek did have the advantage passing, with Howell finishing with 219 yards after completing 18 of 29 passes, including his last 11 attempts. His favorite target was senior wideout Bobby Haines, a Florida transfer who hauled in seven passes for 95 yards.
Howell and the dynamic Haines were both quiet through three quarters. Drops and overthrows had plagued Silver Creek.
Down 21-6 with 10:19 left in the fourth, the passing game finally came alive. Howell completed all six of his passes on a 60-yard scoring drive, including three to Haines, capped by a 9-yard scoring strike that made it 21-12. Senior wideout Drew Sherrow made a diving catch for a 23-yard gain on the drive as well.
Howell scrambled left on the 2-point conversion and threw to senior running back Brad Graham in the back of the end zone. Graham bobbled the ball as he was hit before gaining control. The official ruled he was juggling the ball as he went out of bounds, making the conversion unsuccessful.
That play and a missed point-after attempt after Silver Creek’s first touchdown proved pivotal. The teams both scored three touchdowns. However, Salem was slightly more successful in the kicking and conversion game — and that was the difference.
Senior wide receiver Austin Hasting made a nifty catch-and-run on a 13-yard scoring strike from Howell, and Howell connected with junior wideout Cameron Cook for the 2-point conversion to cut the deficit to 21-20 with 2:29 left.
Salem wouldn’t be denied. After recovering the onside kick, the Lions ran out the clock, with Badger ripping off a 9-yard run and McNeely ramming ahead on a sneak for a crucial, game-clinching first down.
McNeely completed 4 of 8 passes for 95 yards, with one passing touchdown and another rushing. Badger had a 1-yard touchdown run.
Things started ominously for Silver Creek when a pooch kick after the opening whistle landed in between members of the Dragons’ kickoff receiving team and was recovered by the Lions. Before the first play, Silver Creek was called for offsides, the first of a bevy of first-half penalties for both teams.
Salem ran the ball six straight times, including on a successful fourth-and-2, before McNeely found Kody Kramer from 9 yards out for the touchdown. The pass was deflected but Kramer managed to haul it in and, after the Dragons were called for offsides on the point-after attempt, Badger ran in the two-point conversion.
Silver Creek’s only score of the first half followed quickly. Salem was called for a pair of penalties on the ensuing kickoff — the Lions wanted to avoid returners Haines and Hasting at all costs — giving the Dragons great field position. Howell spotted Sherrow for 13 yards and found Hasting wide open over the middle for a 26-yard touchdown.
Unfortunately for Silver Creek, the offense was stagnant for much of the first half. With Salem pounding away with Badger and McNeely on runs, the Dragons went to the air and didn’t record their first carry until around the 7-minute mark of the second quarter.
Silver Creek wasted a prime scoring opportunity late in the first half when the quarterback-center exchange was botched on two straight plays, the latter resulting in a turnover-on-downs at the Salem 12-yard line. Graham had kick-started the drive with a 34-yard run on a third-and-20.
By that point, Salem had taken a 15-6 lead after a 14-play, 66-yard drive ended on the first play of the second quarter with a 1-yard plunge by Badger.
Silver Creek initially appeared to get the score right back on the kickoff when Hasting reversed field and raced to the end zone, but the long touchdown was called back due to a block in the back.
Hasting had three catches for 59 yards, including two touchdowns. Cook added four receptions for 22 yards and Sherrow chipped in three for 36.
SALEM 21, SILVER CREEK 20
Salem 8 7 0 6—21
Silver Creek 6 0 0 14—20
S — Kody Kramer 9 pass from Jordan McNeely (Collin Badger run), 8:31
SC — Austin Hasting 26 pass from Brooks Howell (kick failed), 7:35
S — Collin Badger 1 run (Chris Bravo kick), 11:45
S — McNeely 4 run (run failed), 10:19
SC — Bobby Haines 9 pass from McNeely (pass failed), 5:41
SC — Hasting 13 pass from McNeely (Cameron Cook pass from McNeely), 2:29
Salem (4-8-95-0): McNeely 4-8-95.
Silver Creek (18-29-219-0): Howell 18-29-219-0.
Salem (64-227): Badger 22-97, McNeely 23-76, Logan Harding 4-22, Brent Garriott 1-11, Storm Thomas 2-8, Austin Jerrell 1-8, Seth Hobson 1-5.
Silver Creek (15-69): Brad Graham 7-48, Howell 8-21.
Salem: Kramer 2-14, Austin Jerrell 1-60, Logan Harding 1-21.
Silver Creek: Haines 7-95, Cook 4-22, Hasting 3-59, Drew Sherrow 3-36, Graham 1-7.