SALEM - On Friday night at Salem's Reilly Stadium, it appeared as if all the stars had aligned for the Quakers. With more than a minute remaining in regulation against the Girard Indians, the Quakers had the ball deep inside enemy territory and trailed by just eight points.
It appeared the Quakers would end their 10-game losing streak. It appeared Salem was ready to give its first-year coach Mike Kopachy his first win at his new school.
But appearances can be deceiving.
On first-and-10 Salem quarterback Trent Toothman scrambled and heaved the ball into the end zone only to have Girard's Gino Mariano pick off the pass and preserve the Indians' 42-34 victory.
Following the nip-and-tuck game, Girard coach Bud McSuley said his team was opportunistic.
"We made some big plays. We took what they gave us," he said.
And Salem gave up a lot of big plays, especially early.
In the first half Girard quarterback Adam Charles provided the Indians enough big plays to help his team enter half time with a 28-21 lead.
Charles completed just four passes in the first two quarters, but they went for 10, 86, 32, and 82 yards, respectively - all scoring strikes.
After just 24 minutes of play, Charles had racked up 210 yards through the air. Charles added 42 yards on the ground. Tallen Birningham led all rushers with 132 yards.
While the Indians were scorching the passing lanes, the Quakers also were doing damage of their own.
On the first play from scrimmage for the Indians, Salem senior defensive back Ben Eisel stepped in front of a Charles pass and raced 70 yards to put the Quakers ahead early 7-0. Eisel also added an 84- yard kickoff return in the third quarter that cut the Girard lead to 35-28. Eisel finished the night with two interceptions.
It was the only lead Salem would enjoy because on Girard's next drive Charles found Morgan Dominic on fourth down for a 10-yard scoring strike.
The Girard lead jumped to 14-7 on its next possession on a Charles to Dominick 86-yard hook up.
Salem tied the game at 14 on its next possession on a Toothman 3-yard touchdown run.
Salem's ability to sustain drives was aided by the lackluster defensive outing from Girard, McSuley said.
"We didn't play well defensively, there had to be 30 missed tackles in that first half alone," McSuley said after the win over Salem.
But while his defense struggled, his offense did anything but.
"Overall, we put 42 points up, so you got to be pleased with your team," he said of his squad that out-gained the Quakers in the first half 302 yards to 109 yards.The Indians finished the night with 492 yards of total offense.
Across the field, on the Salem sideline, Kopachy wasn't nearly as thrilled.
"You've got to learn to win, and it's not giving up big plays," Kopachy said.
Smolkovich writes for The Salem News.