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November 11, 2012
Undermanned Salem Survives
Without Bucky, SunDevils Survive Scare: The third-seeded Salem SunDevils went into Friday night's Eastern Region Division 6 quarterfinal playoff matchup against the sixth-seeded Grassfield Grizzlies on upset alert, even well before the game kicked off at 7:30 PM. Among the reasons were the fact Grassfield was making its fifth consecutive postseason appearance and Salem had some important parts of its attack out due to injury.
Salem played without starting quarterback and Virginia Tech commit Bucky Hodges, who sat out with what the coaching staff called a hand contusion. Also out were starting tailback Torron Person as well as starting defensive backs Torrance Brown and Khalib Brown. The undermanned SunDevils pulled ahead on an Andre Toran touchdown with 5:04 remaining and held the pesky Grizzlies off, 18-13 to punch their ticket to the regional semifinals for the third year in a row.
"Looking at this game tonight, I can't say enough about our kids. We had some adversity tonight. They went out and played hard, and that's just the type of kids we have here at Salem. At least five starters [were] out and hopefully we'll get those guys back next week," declared Salem Head Football Coach Robert Jackson.
"I give Coach [Vincent] Pugh and my defensive staff all the credit. We knew with Bucky being out we were especially going to need them tonight."
Salem turned to its defense to preserve the lead late as Grassfield converted a 4th & 15 with a 43-yard pass from Blake LaRussa to Paris Smith to put the Grizzlies inside the red zone with under three minutes to play. Anchored by seniors at three levels with defensive end Rainney Thompson, linebacker and Hokies commit Andrew Motu'apuaka and cornerback Kwamane Bowens, the SunDevils didn't let Grassfield get any closer than that 14-yard line on its final possession when the Grizz watched a LaRussa pass in the end zone on fourth down fall incomplete.
"We all had to make plays. Drew and I were out there telling everybody to dig deep, it's in our heart. You've got to have fight. We're seniors and we have to go out with a bang," stated Bowens, who played a versatile role all night long.
"There's no I in team for a reason. Even with Bucky out, we've still got to correct some things."
That would include penalties. Salem was flagged for 15, costing them 123 yards. A roughing the passer penalty early in the fourth quarter helped Grassfield get closer to the end zone, and senior Marcus Mitchell punched in a touchdown from four yards to give them a 13-12 lead with 8:45 remaining.
In addition to the injuries and penalties, Salem overcame losing the turnover battle and giving up a 40-yard punt return for a touchdown by Grassfield's Tyler McKenzie. But Bowens and Motu'apuaka helped bail them out.
A standout at receiver who had over 200 yards receiving in a playoff game a year ago, Bowens caught four balls for 78 yards in the first half before being moved to Wildcat quarterback, where he rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown on 12 attempts to go with two pass completions - - both to Motu'apuaka - - for 33 yards.
"I had to go back in my old playbook when Kevin [Whaley] and them were here," Jackson noted."
With so many bumps and bruises all across its roster, Salem needed Bowens and Motu'apuaka, who also ran the ball three times for 10 yards, to do more. They delivered with its season hanging by a thread.
"Bucky went down, our backup after Bucky went down and our freshman played a good game for us with his first game starting. Everybody felt like they had to step up, including all the backups," said Motu'apuaka, who did some blocking on offense on running plays, too.
"I told Swammie (Bowens) to run right behind me and I've got him. We had to put the team on our back and come out with the win."
18: (10-1 overall)
Matthew Hatfield has covered Eastern Region Football & Basketball since 2004 for VirginiaPreps.com, part of the Rivals.com Network. Check out Hatfield's Twitter page for more sports related updates, and you can also read his work in the Suffolk News Herald. To contact Matthew, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, and don't forget to listen to him on the VirginiaPreps.com Hour every Saturday at 11AM on ESPN Radio 94.1 plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.