This is exactly what Salem coach Chad Estes envisioned at the start of the 2009 season.
First, he had hoped his senior backfield - quarterback Jojo Smith and running backs Julian McLean, Bradley Moon and Tyler Askew - would anchor the offense. Next, he was looking for a strong effort each week out of the defense. And finally, the fourth-year coach was counting on being in a position, late in the season, to make the playoffs after missing the postseason a year ago.
So far, so good.
Smith, finally healthy after an early-season ankle injury, has been excellent leading an offense that's put up 83 points in consecutive wins over Cedar Shoals and Winder-Barrow. McLean has rushed for 100 yards each time out, and Moon and Askew have been perfect complements. The defense hasn't allowed more than 23 points since mid-September, and the Seminoles hold their playoff destiny in their hands with two regular season games left, starting Friday with the home finale against Habersham Central.
"You can't argue with 41, 42 points the last two games. We've made a lot of strides on offense," Estes said. "This is what I said at the beginning of the year. We really feel like we've got four seniors that the defense is going to have to account for, (and Smith has) done a tremendous job of running our option attack.
"I think the results speak for itself. I think our kids have responded and I really think we're playing really well on offense and defense. ... We're peaking at the right time of the season."
The Seminoles, at 5-3, could easily be 7-1, but losses to Madison County and Clarke Central by a combined eight points hurt. Still, with Habersham Central coming to Salem Stadium for senior night, it's a perfect opportunity to send Smith and company out on a good note and set up a monster finale at Region 8-AAAA champion Apalachee on Nov. 6. The offensive numbers have been great, but Estes knows a playoff berth may lie in the hands of a defensive unit that has improved each week.
"We just weren't as good on defense earlier in the year. We have a lot of new players in a lot of new positions," Estes said. "We've made tremendous strides on defense. Habersham Central's got a lot of talent, lot of kids that can score from anywhere. We're still just trying to take it one game at a time. We're looking forward to Habersham coming to visit this Friday."
SideBar: At a glance
· Who: Habersham Central Raiders (4-5) at Salem Seminoles (5-3)
· Where: Salem Stadium, Conyers
· When: 7:30 p.m., Friday
· Last week: Salem defeated Winder-Barrow, 41-7; Habersham Central lost to Rockdale 34-14
· Series: Salem leads 3-2
· Last season: Salem won 24-10