SALEM — As the ball sailed into the end zone, and the final seconds ticked off the clock, Salem’s Calen Smith was ready to lock down a victory.
“I knew they were going to throw the ball,” said Smith. “I was watching out for a stop-and-go. The Windham receiver is big, but when it came down to it I just went up and broke it up. I couldn’t even explain the feeling when the ball hit the ground. It was awesome.”
With Salem leading by five points, and just 0:05 left in the game, Windham threw a desperation Hail Mary into the end zone, where Smith leapt high into the air and batted it to the ground as time expired, clinching the Blue Devils’ instant-classic 33-28 victory over their rival Jaguars on Saturday afternoon.
“We struggled a little on defense today, but our big word was, ‘Finish,’ and we definitely finished that game,” said Smith. “When it came down to it, we stopped them when it mattered most. It felt great to win this game.”
The Blue Devils (4-0) took the lead for good in the back-and-fourth battle with 5:10 left in regulation, when quarterback Nolan Lumley lofted a pass towards the sideline that Kevin Todisco pulled down for an acrobatic grab, then turned and jetted the rest of the 63 yards for a touchdown.
“I rolled out and there was a little pressure from the back side,” said Lumley. “I just threw the ball up and Kevin came down with it and finished the play for us. I really have to give Kevin all the credit. It was an amazing play. I was so excited for Kevin, myself and the team. I knew he was going to make the play for me.”
Todisco caught two of Lumley’s three completions on the day, finishing with 105 receiving yards.
“On the (go-ahead) touchdown, I saw the ball in the air and knew I had to go get it,” said Todisco. “I jumped up, came down with it and just kept running. I knew once I caught it I had a good path to get in. I just had to beat the guy covering me, and I did it.”
That touchdown, and Smith’s knock-down, capped what was a wild sixth meeting of the neighboring rivals — with Salem taking a 4-2 advantage in the series.
Offense ruled early, with both the Blue Devils and Jaguars scoring on their first three possessions of the game.
Windham picked up two touchdowns from star running back Tiger An (2 and 8 yards) and a 33-yard TD pass from Bill DePietro to Chris Brearley.
Salem, meanwhile, got a pair of TD runs from Felix Gonzalez (2 and 13 yards) and one score from Todisco (5-yard run).
In the first half alone, An ran for 126 of his game-high 177 yards, while Gonzalez ran for 112 yards.
Salem made the game’s first defensive stop in the closing seconds of the first half, when David Gasbarro came down with an interception.
The defenses tightened up after halftime. Windham forced a 3-and-out, then Salem caused a fumble that was recovered by Blue Devil Aaron Masson. That set up a go-ahead 1-yard Todisco touchdown run.
The Jaguars grabbed the lead back with 6:51 left in the game, when DePiertro went around the right side and broke free for a 30-yard touchdown run.
Salem then recovered an onside kick, and after two negative plays, Lumley and Todisco connected for the game-winning score. The Blue Devils then scored two defensive stops to end the game.
“They made a few adjustments and made a few big plays,” said Windham coach Jack Byrne. “But with all of the bad things that happened, we still had the ball in the air to win the game. It says a lot about our kids. But I want it to hurt right now, so we can get to the level we should be playing at.”
Salem is now off to its best start since the 2017 season.
“It feels great,” said Lumley. “Windham is a big rival of ours. They have an awesome team, and they showed it today. They played their butts off, but we were able to get the win. It felt amazing.”
Salem 33, Windham 28
Windham (2-2): 14 7 0 7 — 28
Salem (4-0): 7 14 6 6 — 33
W — Tiger An 2 run (Seamus Ross kick), 6:35
S — Kevin Todisco 5 run (Brady Gaudet kick), 4:15
W — Chris Brearley 33 pass from Billy DePietro (Ross kick), 2:21
S — Felix Gonzalez 2 run (kick blocked), 10:13
W — An 8 run (Ross kick), 6:17
S — Gonzalez 13 run (Nolan Lumley rush), 1:07
S — Todisco 1 run (rush failed), 5:46
W — DePietro 30 run (Ross kick), 6:51
S — Todisco 63 pass from Lumley (rush failed), 5:10
RUSHING: Salem — Felix Gonzalez 18-108, Kevin Todisco 11-43, Jordan Zannini 4-56, Daniel Hughes 4-6, Nolan Lumley 4-15, Colin Salkovitz 3-16, Talen Walton 2-2; Windham — Tiger An 31-177, Billy DePietro 13-98, Chris Brearley 2-31, Cam Williams 4-22
PASSING: Salem — Lumley 3-5-0, 127; Windham — DePietro 7-13-1, 110
RECEIVING: Salem — Todisco 2-105, Walton 1-22; Windham — Ben Roy 3-38, Brearley 1-33, Williams 1-19, An 1-10, Matt Desmarais 1-10