Salem defenders take down a Rockdale County ball carrier during Friday's game which Salem won 27 to 14 for their third win in a row. The victory at Salem Football Stadium puts the Seminoles' season record at 4-2 and in the hunt for a playoff spot in Region 8-AAAA.
CONYERS -- Early in the second quarter of Friday's game against Salem, the Rockdale football team had its first lead in more than a month.
It didn't last long.
Licash Lackey's interception led to a quick touchdown, which erased a one-point deficit and Salem didn't trail again in a 27-14 victory over its crosstown rivals. The win was the third consecutive for Salem, which improved to 4-2 to stay in the hunt for one of four playoff spots in Region 8-AAAA. For Rockdale, the struggles continued, as the Bulldogs dropped their fifth consecutive game since a season-opening win over Winder-Barrow.
Trailing 6-0 with 10:58 left in the first half, Rockdale took over on the Salem 36 and took five plays to take a 7-6 lead on D.J. Ardister's eight-yard touchdown run. It was the first points Rockdale had scored since week three against Cedar Shoals after being shut out in consecutive weeks by Heritage and Flowery Branch.
Salem jumped ahead for good shortly after that. As halftime approached, the Seminoles' defense picked up the first big break of the game. Rockdale quarterback Zach Powell scrambled looking for a receiver, but found McWilliams, who tipped the pass and Lackey intercepted the ball. Blessed with excellent field position, Antone Lenard punched it in from 14 yards to send Salem to the locker room up 14-7.
"We needed a break to go our way," Salem second-year coach John Starr said of the turnover and subsequent touchdown.
After a three-and-out on its first offensive possession, Rockdale punter Devon Dawkins could only get off a 10-yard punt and the host Seminoles took advantage. Starting on its on 40, Salem got a 31-yard completion from Damion Gordon to Che'Darious Robinson, Jahaad Coleman had a key, nine-yard run on fourth-and-one and two plays later, Gordon used a play-action pass to find Lorenzo McWilliams for an 11-yard touchdown and a 6-0 lead. Ardister's touchdown came after Salem passed up what looked to be a punting situation and went for a first down on fourth-and-six. The plan backfired as the pass went incomplete.
"I felt like we came out a little lethargic, maybe a little bit cocky," Starr said. "We knew coming in we were in for a war."
Salem got going right away in the third quarter, using Robinson's 33 to set up first-and-goal at the Rockdale seven-yard line. Two players later, Gordon kept the ball on an option and snuck in from five yards for a 21-7 cushion. Following Eric Crawford's interception, the Seminoles had three big rushes, the last of which was Lenard's second touchdown from 14 yards to make it a 27-7 game.
"The biggest thing we talked about at halftime was go back to basics," Starr said. "We're doing some things right, but we still got a long ways to go."
Rockdale showed some life late in the game as Aalim Dansby found a hole and exploded for a 37-yard touchdown that made it 27-14.
Salem welcomes Clarke Central to Conyers next weekend in a huge game that could help determine playoff seeding, while Rockdale looks to snap its losing streak when it hosts Apalachee.