By Ryan Jones
SALEM — Salem quarterback Trent Toothman thought about running back to the locker room after his post-game interview, but decided to walk instead.
Not that anyone would blame the 6-foot-1 signal caller for taking time to relish the Quakers’ 15-9 victory over AAC White rival Liberty at Reilly Stadium on Friday night.
“It’s indescribable really,” Toothman said. “Everybody on the team fought. Everybody worked as hard as they could. We sold out and it’s just a great win for our program.”
Toothman, who played on last season’s winless Salem squad, said the team has undergone a change in identity.
“It’s a whole new environment,” he said. “It’s intense, but it’s fun; we’re close. We weren’t close last year. This year we’re brothers, and that’s really the only way to describe it.”
Salem coach Mike Kopachy said the win was huge for the program.
“To beat a team with the coaching and tradition as Liberty speaks volumes about our kids — especially after what happened [against] Hubbard [a 42- loss] last week,” he said. “These kids are fighters and they bounced back.”
Trailing 9-7 at the 5:58 mark of the fourth quarter, Salem (3-2) went on an eight-play, 68-yard drive that was capped off by a 14-yard touchdown run by Toothman, which put the Quakers ahead 13-7 with 2:44 to play.
Toothman, who ran or passed on seven of eight plays during the drive, said his team used wide receiver Ben Eisel as a decoy on the touchdown run.
“Ben’s always in the backfield when we run option so we put him there, but the play actually was a trap for me,” he said. “So I acted like I was going option to the right and tried to get the defense going that way and then I cutback and looked for a seam on the left.”
Toothman, whose two-point pass to Justin Adams made the score 15-7 said his first thought was to get his offense into field goal range.
“But when I got in the huddle I told my line if you block for me and give us time, I guarantee we will get it in the end zone,” he said. “It’s a credit to those guys up front; they did everything they had to do.”
Salem’s defense held Liberty to 13 yards rushing in the first half, and gave up 134 on the ground for the game.
“Give our defense credit,” Kopachy said. “Coach [Andy] Bowell came up with a good plan and the kids executed it. We hit hard and tackled well and even though we had a bit of a lapse in the second half we made plays when we had to.”
After being shut out in the first half Liberty’s Chad Nasci hit a 25-yard field goal on the Leopards’ first possession of the third quarter to make the score 7-3.
Nick Mattocks hooked up on a 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Antonio Kinard with 6:15 left in the fourth quarter to put the Leopards up 9-7.
But even though Salem trailed Kopachy said his team didn’t panic.
“We said we need to answer and we answered with a big drive in a big way,” he said. “Our team goes how Trent [Toothman] goes and he came through down the stretch and so did our team. Things didn’t go his way the whole time, but he hung in there. He made strides tonight as a person and as a quarterback tonight.”
Salem’s first score came on a 10 yard pass from Toothman to Eisel.
Eisel led all receivers with 11 catches for 75 yards. Toothman totaled 211 yards of offense (105 passing and 106 rushing).
Charles Perdue led the Leopards (3-2) with 60 yards rushing and Kinard had three catches for 48 yards.