SALEM — After scoring on two of their first three possessions, the Salem Hills Skyhawks jumped to a 14-3 lead on cross-town rival Spanish Fork. But the Dons pushed back in the second quarter after converting two special teams miscues by Salem Hills into scores, resulting in a 17-14 halftime lead for the Dons who held on to win the game 38-30.
The game started well for Salem Hills. Its offense took the field at the 10-minute mark and deftly passed downfield and into the end zone in just under two minutes when Skyhawk quarterback James Nelson found Zeke Mangum open on the right side. Spanish Fork answered with a field goal on its next possession. Salem struck again for six when Nelson connected with Jacob Rolfe, slicing up the middle from 10 yards out, extending the Skyhawk lead to 14-3.
The second quarter saw the tide turn, along with Salem’s momentum, when the Dons capitalized on not one but two fumbled snaps to the punter deep in Skyhawk territory, giving Spanish Fork the ball in the red zone both times. On the first one, quarterback Carson Chappell dashed into the green on a quarterback keeper from 10 yards out. Chappell then converted for two when he found tight end Dallin Bronson, bringing the score to 14-11 Salem. On the second muffed snap to Salem’s punter just minutes later, Chappell pulled a repeat of the previous possession and rumbled across the line on a quarterback keeper. After a blocked PAT, the scoreboard read 17-14 for Spanish Fork going into the break.
The Skyhawks emerged from halftime desperate to regain the momentum they rode in the first quarter. Salem running back Garrett Lloyd quickly found it for them when he scored on a short run that capped off a drive fueled by several surgical strikes by Nelson and a few long runs by Lloyd. Salem found itself back in front 20-17 and in command. But it didn’t last long. With five minutes left in the third, Chappell launched the ball from 37 yards out and into the waiting arms of Dons wide receiver Wei Stanton deep in the end zone, putting Spanish Fork up 24-20.
The lead changed hands again just minutes later when Nelson hit Rolfe with a 36-yard bomb as he was streaking up the middle, breaking several tackles before charging over the line, putting Salem Hills ahead 27-24. But the Dons weren’t done. Chappell and Stanton connected again from 15 yards just as the third quarter ended, upping the score to 31-27 for Spanish Fork.
At the top of the fourth quarter, Dons running back Mateen Lomax exploded into the end zone from 5 yards out, extending their lead to 11 points, 38-27.
Salem’s defense stepped up its game and managed several big stops the rest of the quarter, giving its offense a couple of chances. But the Dons' defense doubled down and held Salem to a field goal with 2:15 left in the game to make the final score 38-30.
“This was a really difficult one to swallow," a disappointed Salem head coach Harry Shwenke said. "The ultimate equalizer in big games is special teams play. We had a strong game plan going in and we had lots of success early on, finally. It felt like we were going to continue to ride that momentum. Up until this point in the season, our special teams had been the most consistent group. But this week I didn’t have them prepared properly and we suffered the consequences with those two miscues on the punts. They cost us two touchdowns and all the momentum we had gained in the first quarter. It will not happen again as we will make the necessary corrections. It was an embarrassment to our fans and community and we will not let this happen again. Our boys will be prepared in every phase of the game.”
The Skyhawks move to 3-2 on the season and will face Orem next week.