By Matt Williams
---- — REVERE — With rain pouring down at Harry Della Russo Stadium, the battle between Salem and Revere became all about field position and protecting the football.
The Witches took care of both, scoring 14 fourth quarter points in handing the host Patriots their first loss, 20-6.
Salem’s Christian Dunston intercepted Revere’s Joe Ritchie on the final play of the game and raced up the left sideline, 100 yards to the end zone to seal the win for the Witches, who are 3-1 for the third time since 2008.
With 4:31 left in the game, Salem’s Aaron Palmer jaunted into the end zone from 15 yards away to break a 6-6 tie that had stood since late in the first half. The game-winning touchdown was set up by Cam Harvey’s fumble recovery at the Revere 20-yard line.
“I can’t say enough about the character these guys showed tonight, on both sidelines,” said Salem head coach Scott Connolly. “Revere is a tough, tough football team and my guys stood up to that challenge on a night like this.”
Revere (3-1) scored on its first possession with Andy Restiano carrying it in from 13-yards out to give the hosts a 6-0 lead. The rest of the night belonged to the Witches defense, which allowed just 131 total yards.
With rain falling and field conditions deteriorating, the game became a battle of wills in the middle of the field. Salem used Dunston and Palmer in the power running game to control the clock, with Dunston collecting 75 yards on 15 carries and Palmer running for 73 yards on 19 rushes.
“Palmer ran effectively and he protected the football,” said Connolly. “He had a great night — we found ourselves yet another back we can count on.”
Punter Jonathan Crimble helped Salem control field position. He boomed a 47-yard kick to pin Revere at its own 20 with 5:52 to play and game tied 6-6. Harvey pounced on a Revere snap mishandled because of the wet conditions to give Salem possession for the winning score.
“He’s a force at nose guard,” Connolly said of Harvey. “You can’t block that kid.”
The Witches did lose two fumbles when the ball slipped out of Dunston’s hands as he attempted to pass. They took every snap in the shotgun and didn’t fumble one, and center Josh McRae was also perfect snapping in the kicking game. That was a huge plus for Salem given the less than ideal conditions.
“It was a game of field position and Josh and Jon Crimble really let that field position come down in our favor,” said Connolly.
Trailing 6-0 and facing fourth down with 2:11 to play in the first half, Salem dialed up a beautifully designed screen pass. Dunston went back against the grain to Genry Rosario, who followed his blockers 30 yards to the end zone for the tying score.
Ritchie found Kyle Gotham for a 49-yard completion as Revere set up shot at the Salem 15-yard line trailing by eight points with under a minute to go. Salem’s defense held, however, with Dunston making the game-saving interception for six points.
“We’re getting our power running game going. We’re playing smart football and effective football,” said Connolly. “We just have to keep getting better every day.”