Lake Taylor’s defense performed as close to perfect as possible for one half.
Just 29 yards allowed, one first down and, most importantly, a zero on the scoreboard.
But when two of the Titans’ starting linebackers — who double as their starting running backs — left the game with injuries at the start of the third quarter, the momentum swung immediately.
Salem, of southwest Virginia, erased a six-point halftime deficit with 28-second half points to beat host Lake Taylor 28-20 Saturday for the Class 4 state championship.
“I lost a couple players I needed on the field,” Lake Taylor coach Hank Sawyer said of Tarreon Washington-Jacobs and Chuck Fisher. “Salem is a good team and you gotta bring your A-game. Not having those guys hurt, but my hat goes off to Salem. They got it in there when they had to and they outscored us.”
Washington-Jacobs and Fisher had 14 combined carries in the first half, and their second-half absence meant the Titans finished with an uncharacteristic 69 rushing yards.
Quarterback Jeff Foster handled the added pressure well, completing 17 of 31 passes for 268 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. His TD pass to Camauri Hunter and ensuing two-point conversion pass to Hunter made it a one-score game with 1:31 left in regulation.
“My last game I just wanted to do everything I could,” Foster said.
Two onside kicks were negated by penalties, and Salem recovered the third to seal the program’s 10th state championship.
Foster also kicked the Titans’ two field goals in the first half as the senior wrapped up his high school career. He and the seven other seniors won the 2019 state championship over Tuscarora.
“Real proud,” Sawyer said. “Words can’t say how proud I am of them to get (to the state final). Losing is no fun, but it makes you a better man — the character and attitude you display in defeat. Anybody can laugh when you win, but you gotta have class and show character when you lose.
“My hat goes off to my eight seniors.”
Salem’s Zavione Wood rushed 17 times for 202 yards and three touchdowns, gaining 182 of those yards in the second half.
The Spartans now have met the Titans three times in state finals, with Lake Taylor winning in 2014 and Salem winning in 2015. However, Lake Taylor will drop to Class 3 next season as part of VHSL realignment.
“My hat goes off to Salem High School as well as our players at Lake Taylor High School, to the fans, to the parents, to the school and all the city support,” Sawyer said. “We came up short today.”
Notable stats: LT-Foster 17-31-1, 268 yards, 2 TDs passing; Hunter 7-135, TD receiving; Salem-DaRon Wilson 2-6-0, 83 yards, TD passing; Wood 17-202, 3 TDs rushing; Cameron Leftwich 13-53 rushing.
Ray Nimmo, 757-446-2364, email@example.com