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For all the marbles
Salem squares off with Cedar Shoals for 8-AAAA South title

CONYERS - For the second straight season, Salem meets Cedar Shoals tonight for the Region 8-AAAA South subregion title.

There's only a small difference this time around: the Seminoles are playing at home.

Salem (7-1 overall, 4-0 in Region 8-AAAA South) puts its seven-game winning streak on the line tonight when Cedar Shoals (8-0 overall, 4-0 in Region 8-AAAA South) visits Evans Memorial Stadium.

The Jaguars are ranked No. 7 in the GaSports.com Coaches' Poll and No. 9 in the Associated Press Poll.

Last year, Cedar Shoals beat Salem 21-3 in Athens to claim the subregion title. Turnovers were the big story, as the Seminoles surrendered four fumbles, including one right before halftime that turned a Salem 3-0 lead into a 7-3 halftime deficit.

"Friday's game against Cedar Shoals, a top-10 ranked team in the state, is going to have a great big game atmosphere, and our players are looking forward to it," Salem coach Chad Estes said.

Once again, turnovers will be one of the key factors in the game, according to Estes.

"Offensively, we cannot have any turnovers. We would like to control the ball, but, of course, we hope to hit some big plays," he said. "Hopefully, we learned from our mistakes (in last year's game). Last year there were three or four plays that ultimately decided the game. We did everything but win on the scoreboard. Of course, that is all that matters."

Salem senior quarterback Terrance Davis is listed as questionable for tonight's game as he tries to come back from the hamstring injury suffered in a 27-7 victory over Alcovy three weeks ago.

"Terrance is questionable for Friday," Estes said. "He has been working hard rehabbing to be able to play."

The Seminoles haven't missed a beat on offense thanks in part to strong play from running back Alex Miller and backup quarterback JoJo Smith.

Miller, a senior, has rushed for more than 120 yards in three straight games and scored seven touchdowns during the stretch. In the last three games, he has 401 yards on the ground.

Smith was 7 of 9 passing for 137 yards last week against Heritage, with three completions apiece to Sam Ahonen and Dramel Oubre.

Defensively, Cedar Shoals will present a new challenge this time for the Seminoles. The Jaguars have switched to a spread formation on offense this season after running the wing-T for several seasons.

"Although they have switched to the spread offense, they are still featuring their quarterback and their running back," Estes said. "They try and spread you out more (on defense), but they are still running the football with some tremendous athletes.

"I think that tackling and playing the cutback run will be keys for our defense."

Salem has already seen the spread offense several times this season, especially against Eastside and Rockdale. Even Heritage and Alcovy have spread formations as part of their offenses.

"Yes, it helps to have already played teams who run the spread offense," Estes said. "Limiting Cedar's big plays will be another key for us."

Jeff Gillespie can be reached at jeff.gillespie@rockdalecitizen.com