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A tale of two seasons for Seminole football
Salem overcomes slow start with 5-5 finish

CONYERS - The Salem football team's 2008 campaign was a tale of two seasons.

The Seminoles started and ended their season with two consecutive losses. In between, Salem won five of six games to pull into the Region 8-AAAA playoff race.

The Seminoles finished with a record of 5-5 in Chad Estes' third season at the helm, one year after winning their third region championship in four seasons with a 9-2 record.

With a young squad, Salem started the season behind the eight ball after dropping games to county rivals Heritage (21-7) and Rockdale (19-0) in its first two games.

The Seminoles rebounded with three straight wins over Loganville (10-7), Monroe Area (24-7) and Madison County (21-14). The victory over Loganville was the Red Devils' only region loss of the season.

And then, Salem suffered its most heart-wrenching loss of the season, dropping a 22-21 decision at Clarke Central in Athens. The Gladiators scored with six seconds left in the contest for the win.

The Seminoles bounced back the next week to beat Cedar Shoals 21-20 in overtime. After a 21-0 win at Winder-Barrow, Salem was 5-3 and in the thick of the 8-AAAA playoff race.

But the Seminoles closed out the season with a 24-10 loss at Habersham Central and a 23-7 loss at home to Apalachee.

"I thought we were inconsistent. We had opportunities, but we just couldn't seem to make the play when we needed it," Salem coach Chad Estes said. "Our players were very resilient this year. After starting 0-2, they were able to contend for a playoff spot in the 10th game of the season."

Offensively, the Seminoles struggled at different times throughout the season. In three of their five losses, they scored seven points or less. Three weeks into the season, Salem had scored only one offensive touchdown.

"I thought we lacked the ability to make the big play throughout the season," Estes said. "Overall, we were just average on offense."

On defense, the Seminoles also had some struggles, despite playing well for most of the season. Salem give up 19 points or more in six games.

"I feel like our defense performed much the same as our offense," Estes said. "They played well most of the time, but when we needed a big play defense we couldn't seem to make it."

The Seminoles will lose several key players to graduation, including center Sam Watts, defensive end Brandon Hill, running back Corey Nedd, defensive tackle Nick Dennis, wingback Cody Davis, tackle Blake Hullett, safety Deonte Fletcher, kicker Joseph Schneider and linebacker Marcus Davis.

However, Salem will have a solid nucleus returning next season.

"We will have a good core of returning starters back next year," Estes said. "Jasijah Smith, Dejone Butler and Bradley Moon are just some of the key starters returning next year."

Moon was Salem's leading rushing this fall with 645 yards. Butler, a defensive end, had a team-high 80 tackles and 4.5 sacks, while Smith, a cornerback, had 40 tackles, two interceptions and also scored three touchdowns while seeing spot duty on offense.

"Our coaches and players will be working hard in all phases of the game in the offseason to get Salem back to the playoffs," Estes said.

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