YOUNGSTOWN - A new Salem squad ushered in a new era with a new head coach, but the Quakers were plagued by the same old problems.
Inability to finish off long drives - Salem came up empty on four times after moving the ball inside the 30 - ultimately led to a 21-17 loss at Liberty on Friday night.
"We came here for a win and we're disappointed that we didn't get a win, but we did some things well," Salem coach Ron Johnson said. "If we give that kind of effort every game and play with that kind of belief - we had two four-quarter comebacks - I'm happy, but we need to finish things. We didn't finish things tonight."
The Quakers and the Leopards went into half time knotted up at 7. Salem scored with 1:25 left in the first quarter when Jake Carner pulled down a 42-yard pass from Trace Jenkins. The Leopards matched the points with a 54-yard run by John Helms at 8:24 of the second.
The Leopards made a push for the lead at the start of the second half, driving all the way to the Quakers' 2-yard line. On fourth-and-1, Liberty's Sherron Walls, who finished with 231 yards on 34 carries, took the hand off but was stopped short when Mike Crittenden and Logan Taylor combined for the stop.
"That was a big play of the game," Johnson said. "We made some plays tonight, but like I said, we just didn't finish."
Salem showcased big-play capability all night long on both sides of the ball. Marcus Crittenden broke loss on a 54-yard run and finished with 95 yards receiving on just seven catches. Brendan Webb caught five for 83. In his varsity debut, Jenkins was 15-of-16 for 242 yards in the air. MIke Crittenden came up with a interception deep in Leopard territory and took it to the 15.
Crittenden's pick set up a 34-yard field goal by Keaton O'Brien. It was his second attempt of the night after coming up less than a yard short on a 42-yard try in the first half. The second gave Salem a 10-7 edge with 8:14 left in the fourth.
The Quaker lead was short lived. The Leopards returned the ensuing kickoff to the 50. Two runs later, Wall crossed the goal line for a 38-yard scoring jaunt.
Salem would tug back with a nine-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Out of the nine plays, five moved the chains. Webb had catches for 17 yards and 11 on the drive, Jenkins ran for 12 and Headon Panezott had a 13-yard reception. Webb capped off the drive with a 3-yard TD catch at 5:42.
Liberty answered with a full dose of Walls. The 10-play drive featured eight running plays by the tailback including an 11-yard run into the end zone with 1:30 left in the game.
Salem threatened, but could not answer the drive. Facing fourth-and-16, Salem went to the hook-and-ladder. The Quakers fell short of the yards needed, but a face mask call moved the chains. Two big-pass plays kept Salem hopes alive and took the Quakers all the way down to the Leopard 29. A sack, however, would end the game.
So where do the Quakers go from here?
"We go back to work," Johnson said. "We have a J.V. game tomorrow and we have a day of heavy, heavy lifting. We're going to go watch film and learn as much as we can and we're going to get ready for United."