Last week’s Salem victory over Amherst County was the first for rookie head coach Don Holter.
But Friday night’s game against Franklin County was the Spartans’ home opener, the first time Holter — a Salem alumnus and career assistant — walked his own team onto the field at Salem Stadium.
Holter and the Spartans left as winners after Hunter Chaney’s 68-yard touchdown pass to halfback Zavione Wood midway through the fourth quarter provided the winning margin in a 27-21 nondistrict victory over the Eagles.
“It feels great anywhere but I ain’t going to lie,” Holter said. “Home opener, it’s special.
“My wife and grandchildren were here … right here in my own community … it’s great to do that.”
Salem (2-0) was extended to the limit by a Franklin County team that showed up to do more than just make it close.
The Eagles (1-1) led 7-0 on an 11-yard TD run by Jayron Smith, and they wiped out a 21-7 deficit with two fourth-quarter touchdowns that had the visitors’ side rocking.
Franklin County quarterback Josh Luckett scored on a 6-yard run and hit Garrett Garman on a 44-yard TD pass with 7:12 left to play as thoughts of a possible overtime loomed.
Not on the Salem sideline.
On the ensuing play from scrimmage from the Salem 32, Chaney was knocked off stride as he rolled to his right from the pocket. He wheeled and lofted a pass down the left sideline to Wood, who took it the distance.
“When we came in at halftime the coach told me we were running the play, so I had to get ready and prepare myself,” Wood said. “When I ran out, I thought [Chaney] got sacked.
“When he threw it, I had to catch up and make a play.”
Franklin County was far from finished.
The Eagles were driving for a potential game-tying or go-ahead score until Smith was stuffed by linebacker Bobby Pinello and two teammates on a fourth-and-1 handoff with 2 minutes, 40 seconds left in the game.
“I saw one of their speedsters running up, I filled the C gap, saw him starting to stretch it out and tipped him over,” Pinello said. “That’s the ballgame.”
Franklin County used its final timeout before the inside run by Smith, who finished with 88 yards on 23 carries.
“That’s our bread and butter,” Eagles coach J.R. Edwards said.
“I called the timeout to change the play. I had a pass play called, then I decided, ‘Fourth-and-1, I want the first down.’ ”
Salem built its 14-7 halftime lead on a 20-yard run by Wood that was set up by Chauncey Logan’s 32-yard gain on a fake punt, and Chaney’s 13-yard pass to Pinello.
Chaney, in his first year as Salem’s starting quarterback, finished 8 of 14 passing for 181 yards and two TDs.
He dropped the snap from center on Salem’s first play and mishandled a shotgun snap later in the first half.
Things settled down from there for the 6-foot, 211-pound junior, whose pass to Wood was the game-winner.
“When I booted out, two defenders came and I just stepped up and threw it,” Chaney said. “I was probably on my back or something getting hit.
“I knew where [Wood] was going to be. As soon as he caught it, I walked off to the sideline. I knew it was a touchdown.”
Luckett passed for 91 yards and ran for 46 for Franklin County, which opened with a 28-0 road win over Liberty last week.
Edwards, also a former Salem assistant, wanted this one. The Eagles have now lost 15 of their last 16 games against the Spartans.
“Salem won the football game and we didn’t,” Edwards said. “We’re going to see what our fiber is made of now.
“Everybody needs to grind and go to work harder. That’s what you do when you lose.”