CONYERS - Corey Shields has been waiting all season to make big plays for Salem.
On Friday night, he finally got his chance in the second half.
Shields scored a defensive touchdown on a 46-yard fumble return and set up another with a 39-yard clutch catch as the Seminoles (8-1 overall, 5-0 in Region 8-AAAA South) beat Cedar Shoals 28-10 to claim the Region 8-AAAA South subregion championship.
"Finally, finally, I was pretty happy (to get that pass). I was loving every minute of it," Shields said. "I felt like a 'Nole, I felt like a Seminole (when I scooped up the fumble). I was doing it all for the team. I may have sparked it a little bit, but it was all teamwork for us tonight."
Next Friday, Salem, the No. 1 seed from 8-AAAA South, will host Madison County (5-4 overall, 3-3 in 8-AAAA North) in the Region 8-AAAA playoff at Reid Memorial Stadium. The Red Raiders beat Winder-Barrow 27-6 on Friday to clinch the No. 4 seed from the North subregion. Last year, Madison County upended Salem 47-44 in a shootout in the region playoff.
This time, the Seminoles will go into the game as the subregion champs after a convincing victory over the Jaguars.
"Our kids and our coaches did a great job. Our coaching staff had the kids ready to play," Salem coach Chad Estes said. "We're going to enjoy this subregion (championship), but next week is the game that counts. We're not on top yet, we've got one more to go before we're back on top."
Turnovers played a huge role in Salem's 21-3 loss at Cedar Shoals last year and, once again, they were a determining factor Friday night.
Zach Roddenberry recovered a fumble at the Cedar Shoals 31 in the first quarter. On the next play, Alex Miller broke loose around right tackle for a 31-yard touchdown at 5:37.
Cedar Shoals, however, answered the score with a touchdown of its own early in the second quarter on Trent McGuire's 8-yard run at 10:37.
With Salem quarterback Terrance Davis still feeling the effects of his hamstring injury, the Seminoles relied on his passing more than his running and, on the next series, his arm restored the lead.
First, Davis and Miller hooked up for a 39-yard gain off a screen pass. And then, Davis connected with Kris Sykes on a 16-yard touchdown at 4:24. On the third-and-goal play, Sykes shook loose from a Cedar Shoals defender around the 7 and then walked into the end zone.
The Jaguars took advantage of Salem's only turnover - an interception by McGuire near midfield - to add three more points before half on Joseph Harrison's 43-yard field goal with four seconds left.
In the second half, Salem's defense shut down the Jaguars' high-scoring attack, pitching a shutout and allowing just 62 total yards, including only 14 in the air.
"We actually just jumped in our nickel defense. It's what we played against Eastside and Alcovy. We only jumped into our regular defense about three times to confuse them a little," Salem defensive coordinator Stan Allen said. "Preparation was the big thing. They had some tendencies that we focused on. Our big thing was to stop No. 1 (McGuire) and No. 23 (Hykeem Hall), because 23 and 1 can take it the distance, and we didn't have anybody that could catch them if they got loose."
Then it was Shields' time to shine.
On the catch, he pulled in a perfect strike from Davis over the shoulder for a first-and-goal at the 2. Four plays later after a pass interference by Cedar Shoals gave Salem new life, Davis scored on a 4-yard run up the middle with 9:23 left in the game.
Less than two minutes later, Salem's Sykes leveled a Cedar Shoals receiver in the flat and, once Shields picked up the loose ball, he had nothing but green grass in front of him. Shields' score put the game away with 7:50 to play.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.