CONYERS - It's funny how a football team's fortunes can change in only three weeks. Just ask the Salem Seminoles.
After starting the season 0-2, Salem is now 3-2 and right where it wants to be - in the middle of the Region 8-AAAA playoff hunt.
The Seminoles captured their third straight victory with a 21-14 decision over Madison County (2-3) on Friday night at Seminole Stadium.
"I'm real proud of our football team and the way it's bounced back after two tough losses to open the season," Salem coach Chad Estes said. "We're really maturing. We knew we were young, but we're growing up. We never thought we were out of it (in the region). We were just going to take one game at time, because it's a 10-game schedule."
Salem's defense controlled the first half of homecoming night, limiting Madison County to just 37 total yards and two first downs, including one on a penalty.
On offense, the Seminoles produced the only points as Bradley Moon capped off a 12-play, 68-yard drive with an 8-yard run. Joseph Schneider added the extra point for a 7-0 lead with eight minutes left in the first half. The drive consumed 6:28.
In the second half, Salem needed only 48 seconds to double its advantage.
JoJo Smith lined up at quarterback and broke loose for a 68-yard touchdown run on the third play of the third quarter, giving the Seminoles a 14-0 lead.
"We know JoJo is a dynamic player, and he really helps us on offense with his legs running the football," Estes said.
Claude Johnson's 54-yard return on the ensuing kickoff gave the Red Raiders a spark. Seven plays later, on fourth-and-goal at the 1, Kendrick Butler plunged in for the touchdown, cutting Salem's lead to 14-7.
Madison County coach Randell Owens rolled the dice and went for an onside kick, but Brandon Hill recovered for Salem at the 44.
The Seminoles took advantage of the good field position and marched 56 yards on seven plays to restore their two-touchdown advantage. The key play during the drive was quarterback Jarrett Brown's 19-yard completion to Tyone Elliott.
Moon capped off the drive with his second touchdown of the night, this time from 5 yards out with 4:53 left in the third quarter.
Madison County made things interesting in the fourth quarter after recovering a fumble late in the game at their own 24.
Aldreakis Allen ripped off a 19-yard run into Salem territory for the Red Raiders, and then quarterback Jacob Owens completed two straight passes, for 19 yards to Stacy Mack and 18 yards to Allen, putting the ball at the Salem 1.
Two plays later, Allen scored on a 1-yard dive, cutting Salem's lead to 21-14 with 2:26 left in the game.
Madison County attempted a second onside kick, and this time it worked as the Red Raiders recovered after the ball ricocheted off a Salem player at the 45.
But a pair of sacks by Salem defensive ends DeJone Butler and Brandon Hill broke the Red Raiders' momentum.
Salem's Tyler Askew intercepted Owens with under a minute to play to wrap up the victory.
Corey Need paced the Salem ground game with 19 carries for 95 yards.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at email@example.com.