DANVERS — With his team holding a more than comfortable lead and the game clock winding down on a frigid Friday night at Essex Tech, Salem High senior Devin Tolbert leaped up in the secondary and picked off a Hawks' pass.
The decisive snag was the perfect way to cap off not only a big night for Tolbert, but a monumental win for the Witches, their first of the season.
Tolbert finished the contest with three touchdowns and nearly 100 yards rushing to go with not one, but two interceptions, helping his team turn a one-score halftime lead into a convincing 27-6 triumph.
"For young athletes nowadays to stay focused with all the adversity that typically comes around with losing and for these guys to develop as much as they have, I'm just really proud of the guys we got," said Salem head coach Matt Bouchard, his team now 1-8 on the year.
"I think today was just a culmination of all that hard work. Offensively we controlled the line of scrimmage and it's been a little while since we've been able to do that, so I think that was really the difference tonight."
As for Tolbert — who scored on runs of nine and 50 yards, respectively, while hauling in a 46-yard catch and run to paydirt through the air — Bouchard had nothing but praise for his senior Swiss Army Knife.
"I think for me if you really evaluate (Tolbert) tonight it was in all three phases; even in the kicking game he did a phenomenal job," said Bouchard. "Offensively in the perimeter he's dynamic and they had a hard time getting him on the ground. He really showcased his skill tonight which was nice to see."
Tolbert wasn't the only one who shined in the victory. It was a total team effort for Salem, who put together a slew of impressive drives throughout the contest.
It started on the game's opening possession, as quarterback Wayne Holloway found Tolbert down the sideline for the 46-yard touchdown connection. The Witches put together another impressive series in the second and nearly scored again, but a fumble on the goal line prevented that. Still, the visitors were able to keep E-T off the board in the first two frames, recording two sacks while forcing a fumble and two punts.
"Credit to them, they did a good job and they definitely came in here with a mission," said Essex Tech head coach Dan Connors. "I told the kids that nobody wants to go 0-fer. It was just very clear, very very clear that they were on a mission and they wanted it way more than us tonight."
The second half saw Salem bring more of the same energy to the turf — this time they were just able to capitalize more frequently.
After Tolbert's first interception halted Essex Tech's opening drive of the third quarter, Holloway found Jariel DelValle in the corner of the end zone for a five yard touchdown. Then, after forcing a Hawks' 3-and-out, the Witches put together their most complete drive of the game: a 13 play, 78-yard series that was capped off by Tolbert's nine-yard scoring scamper.
Holloway (72 yards rushing, 59 yards passing and two scores) was particularly confident and poised on the drive.
"What I'm looking for in our quarterback at Salem High school is someone that can really manage the game, and I felt like (Holloway) managed the huddle really well tonight," said Bouchard. "When we asked him to do certain things he really stepped up and delivered."
Trailing 20-0 at that point, Essex Tech finally got on the board behind the strong running of Connor Drigotas. The senior back broke off runs of 24 and 23 yards before plunging into the end zone from the one to help his team avoid the shut out. Drigotas finished the contest with a game-high 149 rushing yards on 17 totes.
Tolbert finalized the scoring on the ensuing Witches' possession with his 50 yard scamper.
It was obviously a big win for Salem, who had struggled to even put points on the board in their previous contests — one that should only help them further develop down the stretch.
"The type of season we've had ... this was a much needed win and I think that this gives our group a little bit of energy that should carry into next week," said Bouchard. "It's just going to help us continue to grow and develop as a team; we still have a lot to learn, still have a lot to do and we have a lot of young guys out there ... but I think this is going to help us a lot going into next week."