CONYERS - By the time the final seconds ticked off the clock Friday at Reid Stadium, Salem had seemingly forgotten all about a dreary first half. Scoring 21 straight points can have that kind of effect on a team.
After picking up three first downs and 63 total yards in the first 24 minutes, the Seminoles got touchdown runs from Julian McLean, Bradley Moon and Tyler Askew in a dominant second half to defeat Rockdale 21-14.
Trailing 6-0, Salem spent the first five and a half minutes of the third quarter getting small chunks of yardage on the ground before taking to the air. Jojo Smith, who played through an ankle injury suffered in last week's win over Heritage, connected with Moon for a would-be touchdown in the back of the end zone, but Moon's feet weren't in bounds.
On the next play, Smith threw a 19-yard fade to Moon that set up first-and-goal. Two plays later, McLean scored from one yard out to cap a 13-play drive and put Salem up 7-6.
"I just think we sputtered on offense (in the first half), and that was my responsibility," Salem coach Chad Estes said. "I think we came in (to the locker room at halftime) and got our wits about us. We didn't change anything."
Moon was the star again on Salem's next possession. The tailback took an option pitch from Smith and exploded down the sideline for a 73-yard run, getting tripped up by Rockdale defensive back AJ Ward at the eight-yard line. Two plays later, Moon got a nice block from Askew, then ran into Askew, but still cleared the pile on for a seven-yard touchdown and a 14-6 Seminoles' cushion.
"(Smith) made a good pitch and everybody blocked well and everybody executed," Moon said of the long run. "Got a little winded."
"We made a big run (and) it helped turn the game," said Estes.
Having seized the momentum from the bewildered Bulldogs, Salem's defense took over. When Kyle Tippins and Rashaud Ferrell mishandled an inside handoff early in the fourth quarter, Jordon Jackson pounced on the fumble at the Rockdale 29-yard line. Later, Jarrett Brown made a beautiful play knocking down Isaiah Gresham's pass attempt, which forced a punt.
Salem (2-0) followed that with a eight-play drive, capped by Askew's six-yard touchdown run that made it 21-6.
"We got the big play and got the lead and we were able to pad it," Estes said. "Great effort. I'm so proud of our football team."
Rockdale (1-1) broke through at the start of the second quarter to take its only lead of the night. The Bulldogs controlled the football for eight minutes and 40 seconds to go up 6-0. Tippins executed two first-down runs on third-and-long plays to keep the drive alive and carried five times for 54 yards, including a five-yard touchdown.
Following last week's dominant performance over Madison County, the Bulldogs defense continued its stifling play in the first half, holding Salem to 63 total yards.
"(The first half drive) ate a lot of time; I thought we took the wind out of them," Rockdale coach Mike Etheridge said. "We were pretty dominant."
"We had opportunities (in the first half), we just didn't execute," Estes said.
Rockdale tried to come back late in the game. Gresham completed a desperation pass for 45 yards to Williams on fourth-and-10. He then found Dana Turner for a four-yard touchdown that cut the lead to 21-14 after a two-point conversion with a minute to play. But the Bulldogs' onside kick attempt was recovered by Seminoles safety Tyrell Wellington, ending any chance of a comeback.
"It was obvious we should've won the ball game, but we didn't," Etheridge said. "We've got to build on this."
Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.