This one was for a fallen former coach.
Julian McLean scored two touchdowns - one in the air and one on the ground-and Salem's defense was stifling in a 21-3 victory over Heritage on Friday. The players and coaches dedicated the win to former coach Jeff Blount, who passed away last September after a battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
"A lot of these kids knew coach Blount," Seminoles head coach Chad Estes said. "It's hard for me to talk about it."
"We were looking forward to this day. We dedicated this game to coach Blount," said back up quarterback Jarrett Brown. "Everything was for coach Blount tonight."
Salem's first possession of the game included McLean's 30-yard run, but the Seminoles drive stalled at the Heritage 42-yard line. The Patriots were driving on their first possession, getting a 15-yard run from quarterback Andre Wilson and an eight-yard run out of Devon Holmes to set up second and shorty at the Salem 40-yard line. On the ensuing play, Brown recovered Tyrone Brown's fumble ending the Heritage threat.
That turnover didn't hurt the visiting Patriots, but a second fumble did. Later in the first quarter, Jermonte Lowe coughed up a punt, Breon Prad recovered, and seven plays later, Jojo Smith found McLean for an eight-yard touchdown that gave Salem a 7-0 lead.
"That was huge, we talked about getting some turnovers," said Estes.
"(The turnovers) deflated us," said Heritage coach Chad Frazier. "We've just got to minimize mistakes."
McLean made three huge plays to cap a 14-play drive late in the first half, which gave the Seminoles a two-touchdown cushion at halftime. McLean scampered 19 yards on third-and-18 early in the drive and caught a six-yard pass from Brown, who was subbing for Smith (injured ankle) on fourth-and-four. On fourth-and-goal at the one, McLean muscled his way into the end zone to make it 14-0.
"Basically, the offensive line stepped up," McLean said. "(There are) a bunch of younger guys and they really came out and performed."
Besides its turnover problems, Heritage struggled to get any kind of offense going in the first half against a determined Salem defense. The Patriots had 56 total yards, all on the ground.
"I thought the defense played great," said Estes. "I'm proud of our kids. Very resilient."
"You can see (the) defense has changed tremendously," added Brown, who plays in the secondary. "We can't win without our defense."
Heritage's offensive futility continued on its first drive of the second half as the Patriots gained one yard on the first six plays of the third quarter. Brown helped on special teams as well, pinning Heritage inside its own 10 with a booming punt. Salem took advantage, taking just two plays to add to its lead as Brown scored from 17 yards to put the Seminoles up 21-0.
"We started out doing the things we planned on doing; when you get behind, that's tough," Frazier said. "Those guys are pretty good, they just out-played us."
The Patriots finally showed some signs of life offensively, getting to the Salem 15-yard line before a drive stalled early in the fourth quarter. On its next possession, Heritage picked up only 12 yards, but got a 27-yard field goal from Tyler Peoples to cut Salem's lead to 21-3. Heritage did a nice job of recovering the onside kick, only to watch the stagnant offense stumble again, resulting in a three and out.
"You can see (the) defense has changed tremendously," added Brown, who plays in the secondary. "We can't win without our defense. We're going to stay humble and get ready for Rockdale (next week)."
Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at email@example.com