CONYERS - Salem rode the powerful running of Alex Miller to a region championship and the Class AAAA postseason Friday at Reid Memorial Stadium.
Miller left, Miller right, Miller up the middle - Madison County had no answer for it.
The senior rushed for 204 yards and three touchdowns on 35 carries as the Seminoles (9-1) clinched the Region 8-AAAA title with a 31-11 victory over Madison County, avenging last year's 47-44 setback in the region playoffs.
"It's our third time in four years (to be region champions), if I'm not mistaken," Salem coach Chad Estes said. "We're proud of our kids, our program and our community, and we look forward going into the state playoffs.
"To be honest, it wasn't as hard to get ready to play this week as you probably think because of what they did to us last year. We understood the finality of it (the region playoff). It was win or go home. To win without our starting quarterback, it's a testament to all the kids in our program. Everybody had to step it up. Hopefully, we can get Terrance (Davis) back next week and go from there."
Salem will host St. Pius, a 21-7 loser to Marist last night, in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs next Friday at Reid Memorial Stadium.
Miller's strong running forged an early 7-0 lead for the Seminoles, who marched 91 yards on 15 plays and chewed 7:07 off the clock. Davis carried eight times for 40 yards and finished the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run at 3:48 of the first quarter.
Salem backup quarterback JoJo Smith only threw three passes all night, but he made his final one count, rolling to his left and hitting Dramel Oubre in stride for 66-yard touchdown pass with 5:29 left in the second quarter.
After being shut out in the first half, Madison County finally got on the scoreboard on Jack Orr's 34-yard field goal with 7:45 left in the third quarter.
But, once again, Miller took over for Salem, carrying eight times on a 10-play drive that he capped off with a 4-yard touchdown run with 2:47 left in the period.
"He's played well down the stretch. We wanted him to take it to the next level, and I think he did (tonight)," Estes said. "There's no doubt about it, we were trying to control the clock tonight with Alex. In this game playing that bunch, if we had the ball, it's hard for them to score because they're just so dangerous and potent (on offense)."
In the fourth quarter, the Red Raiders took a botched punt snap to creep within 10 points. Madison County's Aldreakos Allen scored on an 11-yard run and Spencer Baird ran in the PAT as the Red Raiders cut their deficit to 21-11 with 8:10 left in the game.
But then Salem's defense turned its big play of the night. Dacquery Robertson intercepted a Madison County pass and put the Seminoles in great field position at the Red Raider 39.
After Sammy Ahonen ripped off a 30-yard gain, Salem extended their to 24-11 on Koy Manget's 24-yard field goal with 3:43 remaining in the game.
Miller put the exclamation point on the victory, breaking off a 32-yard run after Salem took on downs at the Madison 38. On the next play, he scored from 6 yards out to wrap up the victory.
"I knew I was going to have to step up big time because our quarterback got injured and wasn't going to play. I knew I had to do something," Miller said. "We had great blocking up front, just great blocking from the o-line. I've been trying to do my part and take it one step at a time. Once the o-line wears them down, it just comes easy for me."
Miller has now rushed for over 120 yards in four of his last five games and has rumbled for 696 yards in the last five games.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at email@example.com.