By Matt Williams
---- — SALEM — There’s no quit in the Salem High football team.
Not with double zeroes on the scoreboard clock, and not even with visiting Dracut in victory formation.
The Witches got the ball back with no time showing on the clock at Bertram Field last night, as the stadium clock was behind the official time being kept on the field. Senior Aaron Palmer then plunged in from three yards out for this third touchdown of the game with 14 seconds to go.
While Dracut recovered the onside kick and finished a 34-27 win, the final quarter was emblematic of the way Salem (2-8) wants to finish the season.
“There were still 30 seconds to play and to me and our kids, that’s a lifetime,” said Salem coach Scott Connolly. “I decided to call our timeouts there and we were able to make it a one-score game.”
The Middes (3-7) took a couple of knees and lost the ball when a snap over QB Tyler Bassett’s head was recovered by Salem at the 3-yard line. At that point, Dracut had built a 34-20 lead on the back of big plays by their signal caller, who accounted for nearly 300 all-purpose yards.
Salem had trouble offensively in the first half but found some traction in the running game in the final 22 minutes. The Witches gained 170 of their 230 total yards in the second half, with Palmer leading the way with 74 yards on the ground.
Quarterback Austin Connolly ran for 69 yards, threw for 65 and caught a touchdown pass from senior Shakir White on a 13-yard reverse pass for Salem’s first points in the third quarter.
“We needed to get something,” said Connolly. “Unfortunately for us, it took us a little too long to get going on offense.”
Austin Connolly’s TD grab cut Salem’s deficit to 21-7, as Dracut held a 14-0 advantage at halftime despite outgaining Salem, 240-60, at that point.
Salem senior Josh McRae made a pair of interceptions in the shadow of his own end zone to effectively take points off the board.
“The last six games that kid’s been unbelievable on defense for us. He’s all over the place, and he’s our center on offense, too. He doesn’t come off the field,” Scott Connolly said of McRae, his active outside linebacker.
“He breaks on the ball like a defensive back.”
Bassett proved too much for Salem to contain. He threw for 143 yards and three TDs while completing 11-of-15 passes and did plenty of damage with his legs by rushing for 146 yards. Middies halfback Gabe Morales ran for 111 yards on just nine carries and J.C. Hebert proved to be a handful with five grabs for 90 yards and a score.
“Dracut’s a good team. Their QB is a stud. He can throw it and run, and offensively they’re very good,” said Connolly.
Dracut was penalized 10 times for 105 yards, which helped Salem stay within a couple of scores.
The Witches scored on each of their four second half possessions, as Palmer broke through with scoring runs of 1, 3 and 4 yards. Dracut, which went 0-7 in the regular season and won each of its three playoff “consolation” games, answered each Witches’ TD with a score of their own.
At the end, Salem wasn’t about to let the time simply expire. They fought and got six more points, and a few more snaps, for their upperclassmen.
“Thirty more seconds for our seniors to play their last night game? Why not?” asked Connolly. “That was huge and they took advantage of it.”