CONYERS -- With about three minutes to play in last week's game against Habersham Central, the Salem football team seemed to have its second victory of the season all locked up.
The Seminoles led by 11 points and had the ball at the Habersham two-yard line looking to put the finishing touches on a win. But things unraveled quickly after that. Habersham pounced on a fumble at the goal line, drove the length of the field for a touchdown, then turned a recovered onside kick into the winning touchdown, stunning Salem, 43-39.
"Very disappointed, we blew it," said second-year Salem coach John Starr. "We just really dominated the whole second half, total domination. (Habersham) moved the ball, their quarterback (Kevin Ellison is) pretty good. You got to be able to finish the job. It just wasn't our night."
There was some good that came out of the loss, namely the performance of tailback Jahaad Coleman, who scored three touchdowns, including a 90-yard kick off return to start the second half. But the defense, which has given up 84 points in three games, faltered down the stretch, and Starr said the entire team may have taken it easy a bit with the 11-point fourth quarter lead.
"Our kids never gave up, kept fighting and fighting. We're getting great effort, but we're not mentally focused," said Starr. "I feel like we probably relaxed three minutes to go in the game. We've been doing that a little too much. We should be mature enough now where we should play hard every snap and not taking anything for granted."
The Seminoles will try to erase the memory of that heart-breaking defeat and get back to the .500 mark Friday when they host Apalachee. The Wildcats, who a year ago just missed the playoffs after a 5-1 start, are 0-2 as their defense has surrendered 80 points in losses to Habersham and Flowery Branch. Despite the winless record, Apalachee, just two years removed from an unbeaten regular season and Region 8-AAAA championship, will be a stern test.
"You got to be football sharp, we're not there yet," Starr said.