By Matt Jenkins Staff Writer
The Salem News
---- — SALEM — Danvers High football coach Sean Rogers expected an extra point kick and overtime.
Salem head coach Scott Connolly, on the other hand, wanted no part of trying to defend the Falcons in extra time.
So, in a game that featured more scoring than all but five games in the history of Salem News high school football coverage, everything came down to a two-point conversion.
The respective defenses made very few stops all night, but Danvers (5-5) came up with one when it needed it most, taking down Salem’s scintillating quarterback, Christian Dunston, at the line of scrimmage on the two-point attempt to hold on for a wild 46-45 win at Bertram Field.
Dunston pulled Salem (4-6) within one point after weaving his way through the Danvers defense for a 66-yard touchdown run with just 57 seconds remaining. He didn’t have any magic left on the two-point conversion, however, stumbling as he tried to hit a hole up the middle.
“We were expecting a sprint out and were actually surprised that he went up the middle,” Rogers said of Dunston. “But our D-line really stepped up big when they needed to.”
Dunston was almost untouchable all night. He ran for 208 yards and three scores on only 11 carries. Whether it was a broken-down passing play or a designed run, Dunston pestered the Falcon defenders all night.
Not to be outdone, Danvers junior running back Alex Valles carved his way through the Salem defense for 193 rushing yards and five scores. Valles scored on runs of 2, 11, 38, 4 and 53 yards.
Dunston, meanwhile, produced TD runs of 69, 7 and 66 yards, and Salem running back Greg Speliotis also scored three times.
“The Dunston kid is a stud; he really hurt us on broken down plays,” Rogers said. “But we buckled down in the second half. I thought our angles were a lot better, and I thought we were better at tackling in the second half.”
Despite coming up short, Connolly felt Salem had to go for the win in regulation.
“The way their offense was rolling, give them the ball inside the 10?,” Connolly said of a possible overtime scenario. “We were saying that we were going to win the game now, or try the onside kick and go down the field and win the game in regulation.”
Valles was a big reason why Connolly didn’t want to give the ball to Danvers in overtime.
“He’s fast, big, strong. He’s like 190 pounds and he runs that power hard,” Connolly said. “You gotta wrap up and body him up — and we did a lot of arm tackling tonight, which didn’t help us.”
The night couldn’t have started any better for Salem. Jonathan Crimble took the opening kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown, then Austin Connolly fell on a loose ball when the ensuing kickoff was popped up into open space. Speliotis then took the next handoff 31 yards for a touchdown and Salem led, 14-0, with only 27 seconds having ticked off the clock.
Speliotis’ second TD run — a 1-yarder — pushed Salem’s lead to 21-7. Danvers pulled even when Valles scored his second touchdown, then the Falcons recovered their own onside kick.
“Stay to the game plan,” said Rogers about the advice he gave his team after they fell behind early. “We know that we’re a grind-it-out football team and if a team jumps on us, then we have to have faith that we can eat up the clock, limit their possessions and make the most of our possessions.”
By the time the two teams hit the locker room, Salem led 33-28.
The score see-sawed in the second half. Valles scored on a 53-yard run to give Danvers a 40-39 lead with 8:36 remaining, and Alex Grant crashed in from 2 yards for a 46-39 lead with only 1:25 to go.
“Valles has really started to run hard the second half of the season,” Rogers said. “He’s running downhill, but a lot of credit goes to Alex Grant blocking in front of him and Anthony Garron stepped up for us tonight. John Thomas tweaked his ankle and Garron came in and ran like an animal. That’s what we need guys to do.”