LOUISVILLE -Trailing just 13-7 with just over five minutes left in the game and facing 4th-and-goal at the Louisville 5-yard line, the Quakers needed a big play. They didn't get it.
And on the Leopards ensuing possession, the Quakers needed a big stop. They didn't get that either.
After forcing Salem to turn the ball over on downs, Louisville marched 95 yards into the end zone and completed a two-point conversion pass to hand Salem a 21-7 loss at Louisville on Friday.
"We played good enough to win the game, but we didn't make the play at the end to get the win," Salem coach Mike Kopachy said. "Still, I'm completely proud of my kids. They played their hearts out. We didn't have a letdown. We just came up short."
The loss leaves Salem on the outside of the playoffs with no hope of getting in. It also leaves the Quakers at 4-5, making a winning season another impossibility.
On a positive note, running back Austin Noel surpassed the 1,000-yard mark. He carried the ball 26 times for 129 yards. He has 1,083 on the season. The senior standout also scored the Quakers' only touchdown of the game.
"Austin is hurt emotionally right now. Nobody wanted this game as bad as he did," Kopachy said. "He's our leader. We're not the biggest, the fastest or the strongest team around but we play hard from start to finish and we take our lead from Austin."
Noel scored his touchdown just five seconds into the second quarter. The 10-yard run capped off a four-play, 43-yard drive and gave Salem the first points of the game. Keaton O'Brien spilt the uprights for a 7-0 Quaker edge.
The lead was short lived. Less than two minutes later, Louisville answered when quarterback Joey Duckworth connected with Gavin Lovejoy on a 52-yard scoring strike. Duckworth would finish 15-of-33 for 226 yards, a pick and three scores.
Not bad for a backup.
"That's not their starting quarterback," Kopachy said. "Their starter (Chad Neff) got hurt a couple weeks ago, but (Duckworth) has stepped up for them. They're just a good football team. They're a Division II perennial and we should have beat them. We just didn't make the play to win it and hats off to Louisville, they did."
Duckworth found Trent Ohman on both the Leopards' second-half scores. Louisville took the lead at 8:12 of the third with a 15-yard TD pass. The PAT kick was blocked. The Leopards sealed the deal with a 20-yarder and the conversion pass with 1:19 left to be played.
Salem finished with just 174 total offense, running for 150 and passing for just 24. QB Jake Carner completed just three passes on the night. Mike Madison, Zach Penick and Jordan Pierce each caught one for minimal yards.
Defensively, Carner came up with an interception, while Haeden Panezott and John Tafe each recovered a fumble.
The Leopards racked up 330 total yards, adding 104 yards rushing to their big night of passing. Duckworth led on the ground with 14 carries for 56 yards. Ohman was the game's leading receiver. He hauled in eight receptions for 115 yards.
Louisville finishes the season next week at 1-9 Canton South while the Quakers wrap things up at West Branch. The Warriors defeated Louisville last week and lost a 29-28 heartbreaker to Marlington on Friday.
"Win or lose, our kids don't quit," Kopachy said. "We come back ready to play and we'll be ready for West Branch. That's our Super Bowl. That's our playoff game. That's our rivalry game. That's what we have to play for and we're going to play hard. I have no doubt."