Rockdale spent the first half of Friday’s game struggling offensively and ended four of its eight offensive possessions with turnovers. The Bulldogs were a different team in the opening stages of the second half.
Keijne Thomas ran for two touchdowns on Rockdale’s first two possessions of the second half and Rockdale defeated Salem 21-14 at Reid Stadium.
Rockdale (2-0), which has knocked off county rivals Salem and Heritage in consecutive seasons for the first time since accomplishing the feat in three straight years (1999-2001), led 21-0 before Salem snapped the shutout on a five-yard touchdown hook up between backup quarterback Tristan Hernandez and Andrew Willis. That made it 21-6 at the 8:45 mark.
The Seminoles (0-1) made it a 21-14 game with 38 seconds to play when Hernandez capped a 12-play, 90-yard drive with a one-yard scoring run. Salem’s onsides kick attempt was recovered by Rockdale’s Tajaun Warren.
“We didn’t win the fourth quarter on defense, that bothers me a little bit,” said Rockdale coach Venson Elder. “(But) they played a whole lot better than they did (in week one). Once this thing gels we can go a long way.”
After nearly 28 scoreless minutes, Rockdale finally broke through with the first points of the night and never trailed.
Following a negative run on first down, the Bulldogs got to work from their own 48. Kemani Pittman found Matt Mathis for an 11-yard pass play, then Devin Williams scooted seven yards to the Salem 34. That’s where Thomas took over. The senior tailback, who carried just one time for one yard in the first half, had a nine-yard carry, then made a pair of nifty moves to get down the sideline and score from 25 yards to put the Bulldogs up 7-0 with eight minutes left in the third.
Thomas’ number was called again six minutes later, and he capped an 11-play drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge that gave Rockdale a 13-0 cushion. The big play on that drive came from Tajee Steele, who pulled down a 35-yarder with a circus catch at the Salem 4. Four plays later, Thomas and the Bulldogs were up by two scores.
In the fourth, Thomas’ 18-yard scamper got the Bulldogs to the Salem 5 and Warren took a reverse and scored on the next play and the hosts led 21-0.
“We’ve been trying to find a way to get Keijne on the field,” said Elder. “The main thing was to get him to believe he was still a running back.”
Neither offense got much going in the opening half, though Rockdale was able to get into Salem territory on two occasions early in the contest. Good field position on the game’s opening drive, then an 18-yard run by Williams got Rockdale to the Salem 47, but despite an eight-yard passing play between Pittman and Warren to set up third-and-short, a negative running play and a false start penalty forced the Bulldogs to punt.
Pittman found Warren for another completion with Warren first juggling the ball, then securing it for a 26-yard gain to the Salem 34. Rockdale was pushed back five yards on a run play by and punted the ball away after two incompletions. Rockdale went for the big play midway through the second quarter, but Zuri Minnifield’s pass was under-thrown and intercepted by Najiron Brown.
That was the first of several opportunities for Salem, yet the visitors couldn’t capitalize on a number of Rockdale miscues.
Nothing materialized from the first turnover, nor did the Seminoles get on the scoreboard after two other first-half turnovers, including Zaayid Cooper’s recovery of a fumble by Pittman with less than four minutes to play until halftime and Elijah Daniels’ interception of Minnifield with 1:36 to play.
Rockdale was backed up to its own 15 with just under a minute left in the half. On first down, Pittman’s pass was in and out of the hands of cornerback Robert Kimble, and Kimble looked to have an easy path to the end zone if he had hung on. Salem had a pair of timeouts left, but chose not to use one after stopping Williams for no gain on second down with about 30 seconds to play. With the clock running down, Pittman was incomplete on third down, which left just seven seconds on the play clock.
Andrew Tanner had his fifth punt of the half blocked by Davion Bigsby and Kimble fell on the ball, but did so as time had run out on the scoreless half.