By Phil Stacey
---- — BEVERLY — Moving the football upfield and into your opponent’s territory is one thing.
Finding a way to put points on the board once you’re there is a totally different scenario — a lesson the Salem High Witches are learning the hard way.
For the second time in four games this season the Witches were unable to put any points on the scoreboard, falling to Winthrop, 21-0, in a Northeastern Conference South contest at Hurd Stadium. (the Witches used Hurd as their ‘home’ venue Saturday while Bertram Field in Salem is still under repair).
Three times Salem had the football in the first half of play and three times they marched over midfield and into Vikings territory, but came away with nary a point. That included six cracks from inside the Winthrop 10-yard line — and still, no points. The Witches also had three second half possessions (both teams controlled the football for long stretches of play via the ground), yet again couldn’t convert on their lone venture into the visitors’ side of the field.
“It’s all about offensive consistency and the need to do a much better job in that area,” said Salem head coach Scott Connolly, whose team has scored 29 points in its four games. “When we get red zone opportunities we have to find a way to capitalize. You can’t stall in that area; you have to put points on the board.”
Winthrop, a junior-laden team tied with Danvers and Lynn Classical atop the NEC South at 2-0, proved to be opportunistic. It converted all four of its 4th down opportunities and was quick to the point of attack on defense, holding the Witches to two yards or fewer on 21 of their 40 rushing attempts.
There were two key sequences in the contest — and both went against the Witches.
The first came on Salem’s opening drive. Winthrop already had a 6-0 lead when Aaron Palmer burst into the open field for a 53-yard run to end the first quarter, giving the hosts 1st-and-goal from the Vikings’ 10-yard line. But six rushing attempts (thanks to a Winthrop unsportsmanlike penalty on third down, giving Salem an automatic first down on the 5) could net only a grand total of two yards.
“Huge momentum swing right there,” admitted Connolly. “If we score there it’s at worst 6-6, which makes it a whole new ballgame. Instead, we got nothing.”
The second sequence came in the third quarter. Salem received the kickoff but had to punt after four plays, with Winthrop taking over at its own 27. The Vikings then marched 73 yards in a dozen plays, eating more than six minutes off the clock before Jordan Corbett-Franks (80 yards rushing) scored his second touchdown of the afternoon, leaping up and catching a pass from Dylan Driscoll in the back right corner of the end zone while in double coverage. His ensuing 2-point rush gave Winthrop a 14-0 lead.
“That third quarter drive was the whole key to the game for us,” said Winthrop (3-1) head coach Sean Driscoll. “We weren’t all that happy with the way we played offensively in the first half and talked about wanting to control the football and the clock in the second half. On that drive, we were able to do both.”
Making matters worse for Salem was that their lone turnover of the game happened two plays later when Winthrop recovered a fumble. Sean Driscoll then capped off his team’s final touchdown drive moments later with a 17-yard scoring strike to Vinny Sparacino.
Palmer rushed for a team-high 74 yards and caught Salem’s only pass, a 12-yard toss from quarterback Austin Connolly. Defensively, linebackers Josh McRae on the inside and Christian Costa on the outside both had double-digit tackles and Connolly had an interception while tackles Joey Byors (before he left with an injury) and Ian Carter did a fine job controlling the A gaps.
Salem will be on the road Friday night, taking on host Revere at Della Russo Stadium in a battle of 0-4 clubs.