To say Carroll County's football team has struggled in its first season in the River Ridge District would be an understatement. But on Friday, facing undisputedly the toughest team in the district and one of the best programs in the entire state, the Cavaliers played probably their best game of the season, falling 47-21 against mighty Salem.
And yes, Carroll County (1-7, 0-6 River Ridge) fell behind 33-0 early in the third quarter against the Spartans. But something funny happened along the way against the team Carroll County head coach Tom Hale called the best his Cavaliers have faced in his 15 years as a head coach.
In what was probably also one of the most physical games in Hale's tenure, Carroll County did not pack it in. The Cavaliers did not roll over and die for the powerful Spartans. In fact, Carroll matched Salem blow for devastating blow in a high school game that had some of the hardest hits you will ever see at this level. The Cavaliers even outscored Salem 21-20 in the second half.
“I thought it was the most physical game we've played this year. You have to give credit to Salem. They are a good football team and I would like to say they are a first-class group,” Hale said. “But I am so proud of our kids because we played hard against a very good football team. We didn't give up. They haven't all year, but we played for four quarters and that is what we ask from them. They did a heck of a job.”
The Cavaliers set the physical tone for the night early after Salem drove 67 yards on a 14-play drive that ate up more than seven minutes of clock to start the game. With the Spartans driving, Dylan Stiltner and a host of Carroll teammates sacked Salem's Austin Coulling, causing the quarterback to fumble and knocking him out of the game.
The Spartans responded, however, with touchdown runs of 31 and 24 yards by Devante Payne and Coleman Fox, respectively, to give Salem a 13-0 lead after one quarter. The duo struck again in the second quarter with Fox scoring from 24 yards out and Payne from 39 yards to put the Spartans up 27-0. The game appeared to be over early in the second half when backup QB Tyler Gladden connected with Chandler Hunt on a 44-yard touchdown pass for a 33-0 advantage.
The Cavaliers had other ideas, however. A muffed Salem punt gave Carroll the ball in prime position at the Salem 26. Quarterback Connor Lundy, who broke the 4,000-yard passing mark for his career in the game, hooked up with Chase Goins on a 22-yard pass to give Carroll 1st and Goal at the Spartans' 4. The Cavaliers couldn't convert, however, turning the ball over on downs at the 5.
With its offense unable to score, the defense stepped up. Jeremiah Mollett and Jacob Adams both had a bead on Gladden on a quarterback rollout in the end zone. Gladden escaped the safety, however, and sprinted up field before meeting a hard-charging Kendall Edwards head-on. A big hit by Edwards knocked the football loose into the waiting hands of Jared Haga, who rambled five yards for a defensive touchdown. Chase Goins' extra point cut the deficit to 33-7.
The Carroll defense came up big two plays later as Carroll again forced a Gladden fumble, recovering it at the Salem 45. Ethan Underwood, who ran for 83 yards on 4 rushes, broke off a 30-yard run to set up Haga's second score of the night, this one on a 13-yard touchdown reception from Lundy over the middle. Goins' extra point made it 33-14 less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
With the tide starting to turn, Salem's Davonta Womack responded, gaining 136 yards on just three runs, including scoring scampers of 55 and 77 yards to put the Spartans back in front 47-14. Underwood responded with runs of 29 and 15 yards to set up another scoring drive for Carroll, which Lundy completed with a 9-yard touchdown run on a bootleg with 2:12 remaining.
The Cavaliers got the ball back again after Sam Sumner forced Salem to lose its fourth fumble of the night, but time ran out before Carroll could do any more damage.
“Since I have been coaching here, that is the best team we have played. Man, they are physical,” Hale said of Salem. “But I really felt like we had a good defensive scheme. Call a spade a spade, they are just better than we are. But our kids kept their heads up and just kept playing and kept playing. They had more good plays than we did, but we had some.”
Carroll County will conclude the River Ridge District slate Friday in Roanoke at Patrick Henry before closing out the season at home Nov. 8 against Patrick County in a non-district tilt.
Salem 13 14 6 14 - 47
Carroll 0 0 7 14 - 21
S – Payne 31 run (Reighard kick)
S – Fox 27 run (kick failed)
S – Fox 24 run (Reighard kick)
S – Payne 39 run (Reighard kick)
S – Hunt 44 pass from Gladden (pass failed)
CC – Haga 5 fumble return (Goins kick)
CC – Haga 13 pass from Lundy (Goins kick)
S – Womack 55 run (Reighard kick)
S – Womack 77 run (Reighard kick)
CC – Lundy 9 run (Goins kick)
Passing Yards107 105
RUSHING – Womack 3-136, Payne 9-104, Fox 9-79, Ramsey 6-27, Hunt 3-0, Edwards 1-0, Coulling 1-minus 4, Gladden 4-minus 8.
PASSING – Gladden 4-6-0 107 yds., Coulling 2-3-0 13 yds.
RECEIVING – Close 2-45, Hunt 1-44, Payne 1-18, Fox 1-7, Gladden 1-6.
RUSHING – Underwood 4-83, Goins 6-18, Lundy 5-5, Edwards 3-10, Stiltner 1-0.
PASSING – Lundy 7-27-2 105 yds.
RECEIVING – Goins 3-74, Haga 2-25, Reece 1-7, Edwards 1-minus 1.