CONYERS - Apalachee scored a touchdown 17 seconds into Friday’s game against Salem, but that was all for the visiting Wildcats.
The host Seminoles scored 27 unanswered points, including 21 straight in the second half, to pick up a 27-7 victory in Region 8-AAAAA play.
Salem snapped a three-game losing streak in improving to 3-5 overall and 2-4 in league play. Apalachee’s miserable season continued as the Winder school remained winless at 0-8, six of the losses coming in league play.
Salem, which coming into the night had lost its last three games by a combined score of 129-30, pulled ahead for good thanks to some sloppy special teams play by Apalachee.
The Wildcats were set up to punt from their own 43 when the ball was snapped well over punter Shane Burnett’s head. Salem’s Kentrell Lodge chased the ball down and recovered at the Apalachee. That allowed Tyriano Green to score on the next play and Licash Lackey scored on a two-point conversion run to put the Seminoles up 14-7.
After throwing an ill-advised interception on Salem’s next possession, Lackey took over the remainder of the game. On an early-fourth quarter drive, the Salem quarterback had a 12-yard completion and carried three times for 46 yards, the last of which was a 36-yard touchdown to make it a 20-7 game.
After an Apalachee drive ended on an incompletion on fourth-and-five, Lackey capped a three-play drive with a 33-yard scoring run that put the Seminoles in command at 27-7.
“It was nice,” Salem coach John Starr said of the scoring runs by Lackey. “That guy gets on the edge, he’s tough to beat.”
While the Salem offense scored its most points in more than a month - since a 60-point outburst in a win over Winder-Barrow September 20 - the defense played better than it had since an early-September shut out of Wesleyan.
Apalachee had 196 total yards in the first half, but was shut down over the final 24 minutes and held to just 101 total yards of offense.
“I’m glad. I’m tickled to death to get the win,” Starr said. “We still got to keep playing hard (but) we’ll take it.”
Salem tried an on-sides kick to open the game, and the trick play nearly worked. The ball was loose and Salem had a chance to recover before Apalachee’s Jerald Williams pounced on the ball at the 36.
That seemed to give the Wildcats a lift as the offense scored immediately. On the first play from scrimmage, Bryan Wilson dropped back to pass and found Jody Mathis across the middle and the senior tailback did the rest, scoring from 64 yards to give Apalachee a 7-0 cushion just 17 seconds into the game.
That was a rare highlight for Apalachee, which is 0-8 for the first time in the program’s 14-year history.
Meanwhile, Salem couldn’t get much going on its first two possessions, the first ending after three uneventful plays and the second coming to a close after Kent Knowles intercepted Lackey at the Apalachee 18.
The third possession for the Seminoles was the charm as the hosts had an efficient, two-minute drive, traveling 79 yards in just five plays.
Hassan Boddie had a 14-yard scamper to get Salem to midfield, and on the next play Lackey hooked up with Robby Cyrus for a 51-yard touchdown, and though the two-point attempt came up short, the Seminoles had pulled to within 7-6 with 8:29 left in the first half.
Salem couldn’t capitalize on a fumble by Mathis that Kodge recovered late in the second quarter. The Seminoles began the drive at their own 31, but four penalties totaling 41 yards, including a chop block that nullified a 31-yard completion from Lackey to Richard Days that would’ve gotten Salem to midfield.
Salem will now try and build its first winning streak of the season when it visits Cedar Shoals next weekend.
“Cedar Shoals is pretty explosive (and) everywhere is tough in this league,” Starr said of next Friday’s trip to Athens.