Members of Salem’s football program partied like it was 1999 on the Plymouth-Canton Educational Park’s east turf stadium’s field Friday night, celebrating the scratching of a 24-year itch.
With the Chiefs facing a fourth-and-goal from the Salem 7-yard line, 50 seconds to play and the Rocks leading 21-14, Canton quarterback Devvin Calhoun — who circled out of the backfield after a hand-off — caught a trick-play pass at the 1-yard line but was stonewalled by Salem’s Rocco Spica, Zach Passmore and Darius Williams before he could extend the ball over the goal line.
The gritty defensive effort preserved Salem’s first victory over their cross-campus rival since 1999 — eight years before most of the Rocks stars were born.
During the two rivals’ six previous meetings, Canton had outscored Salem by a combined score of 264-65.
“Not the biggest team on the field, not the fastest team on the field, but there’s not a team in the state with heart like yours, fellas,” Salem first-year head coach Landon Garrett told his team as it gathered near the 40-yard line.
‘Believe in yourself’
“We’ve been talking about it all year. You just have to keep grinding, believe in yourself, believe in your family.”
Most of the game was played in a drenching rain that couldn’t dampen the Rocks’ post-game mood.
“This is amazing,” said Salem junior two-way standout Aidan Moore, who threw the eventual game-winning touchdown pass to Azarius Hayes mid-way through the fourth quarter. “We got blown out by Canton my first two years here, but we came out tonight and made a difference.
“We come out here every day at practice and work and work, and we wanted to come out tonight and whip their butts for a change.”
Moore broke free for a 30-yard run in the first half and a field-flipping 76-yard haul late in the third quarter when — with Canton leading 14-7 — he carried the ball from his own 2-yard line to the Chiefs 22. Two plays later, Salem quarterback Brayden Alexander connected with Owen Anderson on a 30-yard scoring strike along the Canton sideline to knot the game at 14-14.
Moore’s game-winning pass came on a halfback heave to Hayes, who managed to out-jump a Canton defender, secure the ball and get one foot inbounds.
“It wasn’t a great throw, but my man AZ did a great job of coming down with the ball and keeping his feet in,” Moore said.
Salem, which improved to 1-6, has knocked on the door of victory at least two other occasions this season when it led Utica Henry Ford until the final minute — and the Rocks led once-beaten Novi 10-7 at halftime of their homecoming game two weeks ago.
“I’ve believed in this team all year,” said an elated Garrett. “They’ve continued to work hard and believe in themselves and it showed tonight.
Long time coming
“They made it clear in practice all week leading up to tonight how bad they wanted this game. I’m incredibly happy for them because this was a long time coming.”
Canton bolted to a 7-0 first-quarter lead on a punishing 27-yard touchdown run by Devin Pettus.
Undaunted, the Rocks deadlocked the game at 7-7 on a 74-yard connection from Alexander to Gavin Morrison, who caught a short hitch pass, juked two Chief defenders and sprinted down the west sideline for the score.
Now 2-5, the Chiefs led 14-7 at the half thanks to a 10-yard keeper TD by Calhoun.
Both teams’ 2023 has been anything but typical. Canton has transitioned to an almost entirely new coaching staff led by Casey Bess, who replaced the program’s longtime Wing-T offense with a spread-formation attack.
Salem is being led by its third head coach in the past four years — and Garrett and his staff weren’t assembled until the spring after Brendan Murphy, the Rocks’ head coach in 2022, had to resign due to a job change.
Both squads have been forced to play scheduled home games on other schools’ fields due to the season-long closure of the P-CEP west turf field.
Friday’s “Pink Out” game was special in more ways than one as it raised money for the American Cancer Society.
Canton players wore special uniforms with pink numbers. The Chiefs were given the option of wearing the name of a loved one who was impacted by cancer on the back of their jerseys — a cool touch for an amazing cause.
Ed Wright can be reached at 734-664-4657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.