In a key showdown in Division I, Salem went on the road to take on Timberlane in front of a packed crowd on a great night for football. Overall they are 2 evenly matched teams. The difference was turnovers and penalties. Timberlane had 2 fumbles and 1 interception, compared to 0 turnovers for Salem. The Owls also had an 81 yard TD run by QB Jason Hughes called back due to holding. As a result, the Blue Devils improve to 3-1 on the season, while Timberlane falls to 2-2.
Salem's defense was strong all game long, led by senior lineman Sean Nartiff, senior lineman Tim Dodier, senior linebacker Doug Maroun, senior DB Bryce Haynes and junior DB Jonathan St. Hilaire.
"The defense played great" said the 6'2", 240 lbs. Nartiff, one of the top players in the state. "We had a great week of practice."
Nartiff had a sack, a fumble recovery and numerous tackles. He also had a key 14 yard run on 4th and inches in the 4th quarter to prevent Timberlane from mounting a comeback.
"Nartiff is talented" said Salem head coach Rob Pike. "He's a great player on defense. He makes plays."
The biggest play of the game though was Timberlane fumbling the ball on a punt return. It happened during the 2nd quarter, with Salem only up 3-0 at the time. Salem was forced to punt it away. Timberlane fumbled the ball and Salem recovers on the Owls' 32 yard line. 2 plays later Blue Devils senior RB Charles Sibanda races 32 yards for the game's first touchdown and it's 10-0 Salem with 2:09 left in the 2nd quarter. The Owls fumbled another punt return in the 2nd half, but managed to recover that one.
That put Salem up 10-0. The 2 score deficit turned out to be too much for Timberlane to come back from. Hughes completed just 5/20 passes on the game. His top receiver, junior Jake Post left the game early on with an injury and did not return.
On Timberlane's ensuing possession after going down 10-0, Hughes made an outstanding run, weaving his way through the Blue Devils defense and on his way to the end zone for an 81 yard TD. It was waved off though and called back due to a holding penalty. The Owls went on to punt.
Salem nearly made it a 3 score game at the end of the 1st half. They ran some trickery, going with a HB pass play as Nick Shumski rolled right and completed a 28 yard pass to Matt Ayotte. Sibanda (108 yards and 1 rushing TD) then broke off a 25 yard run. But after a nice tackle by Timberlane LB Zach Thibeault it was 3rd and goal from the 11. Hughes made a nice tackle, and then Salem went for a fake FG but Ayotte was tackled at the 1 yard line. It was 10-0 Salem at halftime.
Timberlane finally got on the board on their first drive of the 2nd half. Hughes connected with Brendan Frezza for a key 9 yard pass on 3rd and 7 from their own 40 yard line. After Nartiff and Doug Maround teamed up for a nice hit it brought up another crucial 3rd and long conversion attempt. It was 3rd and 10 from tbeir own 49 yard line, and Hughes made a great play to scramble for a 10 yard gain. Then came yet another big 3rd down conversion attempt for the Owls. It was 3rd and 1 from the Salem 31 yard line. Senior RB Tyler Furey (99 yards) takes the hand-off and sprints 31 yards for the touchdown. Timberlane needed that! Now they're only down 10-7 with 7:39 left in the 3rd quarter and we've got ourselves a ball game!
Timberlane kept that momentum going on Salem's ensuing drive. The Owls continued to get strong defensive efforts from guys like Thibeault, Austin Hall Cam Altobelli and Zach Makepeace. The Blue Devils are forced to punt.
Timberlane gets the ball back with a chance to take the lead. But Nartiff sacks Hughes on 3rd and 8 and the Owls are forced to punt. Nartuff was an animal out there!
Salem gets the ball back, and goes on a huge drive which ends with a 4 yard TD run by QB Matt Soldano. Salem is back up by 2 scores, 17-7 with 10:39 left in the 4th quarter. Junior RB James LeBlond made a number of strong runs on the drive to setup the score by Soldano. LeBlond (57 yards rushing) had runs of 11, 21 and 11 yards on the drive. His second 11 yard run was especially impressive, bouncing off tackles and showing good determination and toughness. That run set up 1st and goal from the 6. Another key play that eld to the score came on 4th and 5 from the Timberlane 30 yard line. Soldano completed a pass to Mark Foglio for a 13 yard gain. It was the one and only pass Soldano completed all game (he was 1/8 passing).
Timberlane football trying to answer back. They're down by 2 scores, but there's plenty of time left. However Hughes' pass on 3rd and 13 was picked off by St. Hilaire, who made a terrific diving grab. It did look like he may have caught the ball out of bounds though, so a tough break for the Owls.
Thibeault sacks Soldano and the Blue Devils are quickly forced to punt, so Timberlane gets the ball right back. They really need a score on this drive to have a chance. Furey makes a 36 yard run and the Owls faithful are getting rowdy! But then Hughes tries to make the hand-off and we have a fumble. Who else but Nartiff to be there to recover the ball for Salem.
Blue Devils football, looking to get a 1st down to keep the clock running and put the icing on the cake. It's 4th down and inches from their own 31 yard line. A gutsy call to go for it by Coach Pike, rather than punting. The hand-off goes to Nartiff. Not only does he pick up 1 yard, he picks up 14!
"We like our chances of Nartiff getting a yard on that play" said Coach Pike.
"The other carry I had was vs. Winnacunnet, and that was a touchdown from 1 yard out."
Salem ends up having to punt, but there's now under 2 minutes left and Timberlane is still down by 2 scores, 17-7. LeBlond and Dodier combine to sack Hughes. Hughes connects with Furey for a 24 yard completion. St. Hughes looks to throw it deep, but Hilaire and Bryce Haynes are there with strong pass coverage. Timberlane refuses to give up though, as Hughes hits Corey Mills for a 15 yard gain. But then on 4th and 4 from the Timberlane 13 yard line Hughes pass to the end zone fell incomplete. That's your ball game, with Salem holding on for the 17-7 win.
Salem went on top 3-0 on a 25 yard field goal by Jacob Bosworth on the game's opening drive. The score was set up by a 38 yard run by Sibanda, a 10 yard run by Solomon Ortiz and a 12 yard run by Shumski. It was 4th and inches from the Timberlane 3 yard line and Salem was going to go for it. But then they got whistled for a false start and had to settle for the FG.
Both teams lost key players to injury in the 1st half. Post for Timberlane, and senior RB/LB Johnny Bartose. Neither player returned to action, both sat out the entire 2nd half.
"Bartose went to the hospital" said Nartiff. "He may have a broken foot."