Salem waltzed into Frank W. Cox High School and knocked the Falcons from the undefeated ranks Friday with a 27-14 win.
WHY SALEM WON
The SunDevils (5-1) set the tone on the opening drive of the game when they stripped Falcons quarterback Cole
Johnson and Marcus Joyner returned the fumble for an 84-yard touchdown. Salem forced back-to-back interceptions on Cox’s first two drives of the second half.
A week after Cox running back Matt DeMasi exploded for 150 yards against Bayside, Salem held the senior to just 74 yards on 15 carries. While Johnson posted respectable numbers (20 of 28 passing for 201 yards and two touchdowns), his lost fumble in the first half and interception in the second half proved costly.
The SunDevils caused four turnovers on eight Falcon drives. Salem also forced two fumbles that Cox recovered.
PLAY OF THE GAME
On the first play of the second half, Cox (5-1) attempted to run a trick play that backfired when Da’Jon Askew took the handoff from quarterback Cole Johnson, stepped back and threw an interception to Salem’s Taeyonn Reynolds. Set up on the Falcons’ 2-yard line, Malik Butts capitalized with a 2-yard touchdown run on the SunDevils’ first offensive play after the turnover, giving Salem a 20-7 lead.
Less than 30 seconds into the second half, those two consecutive plays deflated the home crowd.
“It was big,” Salem coach Robert Jackson said of the two-play series of events. “We anticipated a trick play early and it worked out in our favor.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Salem’s Malik Butts and Devonte Williams.
The SunDevils’ talented backfield duo were nearly unstoppable. Coach Robert Jackson says the team goes “as they go.” Butts finished with 76 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, while Williams rushed for 82 yards on nine carries and hauled in one 13-yard touchdown catch. The two pounded the Falcons’ defense and controlled the time of possession.
“We’re a two-headed monster,” Butts said after the game. “That’s how we always are.”
STAT OF THE GAME
Don’t let the stats fool you; numbers lie sometimes.
Cox’s offense produced more total yards (201 passing, 117 rushing, 318 total) than Salem’s (63 passing, 160 rushing, 223 total), but the numbers on paper don’t show how Friday’s game played out.
The Falcons had 14 more offensive snaps, and because they played behind the entire night, they were forced into calling more aggressive plays. Salem’s offense was efficient, punting only twice and committing one turnover on downs.
Salem’s Jackson: “Our defense has been playing tough all year. We’re not a big team, but our guys are physical and get after people. I can’t tell you how proud I am of them.”
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR BOTH TEAMS
Winners of five straight, Salem is one of the hottest teams in the district. After their 31-14 opening season loss to Ocean Lakes, the SunDevils have outscored their opponents 177-36 (including two shutouts). They host Kellam (2-4) next Friday.
The Falcons will look to shake off their first loss of the season next Saturday at First Colonial (3-4). Cox played uncharacteristically at home against Salem, but coach Bill Stachelski is sure to have his players fired up for a bounce-back performance.
Follow Joe Saade’s coverage of Virginia Beach high school sports on Twitter @SouthsideTeams. To submit story ideas, or to suggest players or teams to profile, email him at Joe@southsidedaily.com.