RIVERDALE – While it has been a challenging season for Head Coach Jarrett Laws and the Salem Seminoles, it has been rewarding in some respects as well.
With last years playoff team decimated by graduation, Laws began the rebuild process. The Seminoles closed out their 2019 season Thursday night with a 22-8 win over the North Clayton Eagles and showed afterwards how special of group they were, and that success is not always judged by the record, but instead how a group manages adversity.
Any doubt about the Seminoles psyche was erased early as they drove the field on the opening drive to take an 8-0 lead.
The question before the game centered around sophomore running back Willis Sheppherd and when he would surpass 1,000 rushing yards for the season. It happened on his 5-yard touchdown run up the middle and he added three more yards on the two-point conversion.
With the rain starting to set in, it was now up to the Seminole defense to make a statement and they did all night. For the game, they only allowed North Clayton 101 total yards and forced three huge negative plays at crucial points in the game.
The Seminoles scored again on their first possession of the third quarter, this time on a 9-play, 66-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass form Daniel Scott to Brian Woods. Salem again went with the two-point conversion and Scott converted for a 16-0 lead.
Just one play later, the Seminoles sealed the victory when Jasiah Beachem stepped in front of a North Clayton quarterback Courtney Colbert Pass and took the interception the distance for a Salem 22-0 lead late in the third quarter.
Aided by three Seminole penalties, the Eagles put together their best drive of the night and scored on a 17-yard touchdown pass to Onuma Dieke from Colbert, but it was too little, too late, as the Seminole defense finished the game strong to secure the 22-8 victory.
With the rain subsided, the Seminoles post-game didn’t look like a team that struggled to finish the season. While they were not pleased with their 2-8 record, there was some pride in how they had overcome and gotten better every practice and game.
“It’s the toughest and the greatest job of coaching I have ever had the privilege of doing," Laws said. "To look back and graduate 29 seniors last year, 16 of which are playing in college, and then look up and have a handful of seniors, and most kids have never seen varsity time, and see them steadily progress, I couldn’t ask for anything more. I am just really proud to see this thing through to the end.”
To Laws and his staff, it’s much more than just the wins and losses.
“If we based our coaching on the x’s and o’s, we haven’t done very much with the world around us," Laws said. "I believe in my heart that you have to get to the soul of a man, and those things will take care of themselves. But to these kids’ credit, they loved each other all the way through to the end, and they will serve them well later in life. I am just grateful to be their coach.”
This team will always be remembered at the one that carried the success and work ethic of the 2018 squad to upcoming Seminole teams, and the future is bright.
Sheppard finished the game with 130 yards on 24 carries and scored his ninth touchdown of the season. Coach Laws knows Sheppard’s next two seasons will be special.
Sheppard finishes the year with 1,108 yards on 175 carries.
“It’s hard to believe he is only a sophomore," Laws said. "I sit down and talk to him and he sounds like a guy with lifelong wisdom, but that is a credit to his parents. To think we have two more years to watch him grow, it makes me want to be more responsible to design schemes and plays to let him shine.”
On this rainy night to close out the 2019 season, what shined the most for Salem was their brotherhood. They finished the season as winners. As they left the field, one of the players asked when spring practice started - they are already looking ahead.
SALEM 22, NORTH CLAYTON 8
Salem 8 0 14 0 -- 22
Heritage 0 0 0 8 -- 8
Salem: Willis Sheppard 5 run (Sheppard 2-pt conversion), 6:05
Salem: Brian Woods 17 pass from Daniel Scott (Scott 2-pt conversion), 5:27
Salem: Jasiah Beachem 20 interception return (conversion failed), 5:13
North Clayton: Onuma Dieke 17 pass from Courtney Colbert (Colbert 2-pt conversion), 8:08