ATHENS - Salem lost a heartbreaker in the final six seconds Friday night at Billy Henderson Stadium.
Clarke Central's Dimitri Holmes caught a 15-yard touchdown pass with six ticks left on the clock as the Gladiators (6-1) rallied from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to claim a 22-21 victory over the Seminoles (3-3).
The Gladiators' comeback erased a strong effort from the Seminoles, who never trailed until the game's final six seconds.
In fact, Salem caught the first break of the game - on the opening kickoff.
JoJo Smith recovered a short kickoff to give the Seminoles the ball at the Clarke Central 23.
Five plays later on fourth-and-2, senior fullback Corey Nedd scored on a 3-yard run up the middle. Joseph Schneider's extra point gave Salem at 7-0 lead at 9:48.
The Gladiators cut their deficit to 7-3 later in the opening quarter after recovering a fumble at the Salem 23.
Noah Welch hit a 23-yard field for Clarke Central with 3:05 left in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Salem extended its lead to 14-3 after reaching into its bag of tricks on special teams.
On a Clarke Central punt, Tyler Askew fielded the ball for the Seminoles and then handed off the ball to Smith on a reverse. The Salem senior picked up a key block and then tightroped his way down the sideline for a 79-yard touchdown with three minutes left until halftime.
But the Gladiators cut their deficit to 14-10 right before halftime.
Quarterback John Wilson threw his first of three touchdown passes, connecting with Holmes on a 10-yard scoring toss with 18 seconds left in the half.
Wilson passed for 62 yards on the 72-yard drive.
Salem opened the third quarter with an impressive eight-play, 65-yard drive that restored its 11-point advantage.
The Seminoles moved the ball down the field behind the strong inside running of Bradley Moon and Nedd.
However, it was a pass play that set up the touchdown.
Sophomore quarterback Jarrett Brown hit Jordon Trippe for a 30-yard gain to the Clarke Central 21 on a third-and-8 play.
Three plays, on another third down, Nedd ripped through the middle of the Gladiator defense for an 11-yard down at 8:13.
Wilson, who threw for 336 yards, passed for 68 on a drive early in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 21-16.
On fourth-and-22, Wilson hit Paris Allen for a 27-yard touchdown with 7:59 left in the game.
Three possessions later, the Gladiators took over with 1:58 left in the game at their own 21.
Wilson hit two straight third down completions, one to Allen for 12 yards and another to Holmes for 14 yards, to get the ball to the Salem 41.
He then found Holmes again for 13 yards to the Salem 28 with 48 seconds to play. The duo hooked up again for 11 yards and another first down at the 15.
Three plays later, Wilson hit Holmes on the sideline in the end zone to put Clarke Central in front 22-21 with six seconds to play. On the drive, Wilson completed five of nine passes for 64 yards.
Holmes finished the game with 15 catches for 189 yards.
Nedd paced Salem on the ground with 67 yards on 15 carries, while Moon chipped in 65 yards on 14 carries.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.