MINERVA - For the better part of 48 minutes, Salem and Minerva fought tooth and nail under the lights of Dr. Robert H. Hines Stadium.
However, a four-minute flurry resulting in two turnovers and three Minerva touchdowns sent the Quakers to a 31-19 loss.
"I think we outplayed them in a lot of phases of the game," Salem head coach Ron Johnson said. "We continue to grow, our offensive line continues to grow. We did a lot of things very well, but we're still not able to overcome the big mistakes."
Penalties put an end to each team's first possession of the evening.
On their ensuing drive, Salem opted to keep the ball on the ground and did so successfully, but a holding penalty forced the Quakers into a third-and-long situation that they couldn't overcome.
"We've got to continue to stay ahead of the chains," Johnson said. "I'm not saying we have to play a perfect game to win, but we were playing a great team game in the first half. Our offense was dominating the time of possession. Defense was playing good and getting them behind the chains."
The Quakers attempted just two passes in the first quarter, establishing a rushing attack that took advantage of the Lions' three-man front.
Salem and Minerva entered the second quarter knotted at zero, but the offenses began to heat up.
After being held to just 34 yards of offense in the opening frame, Minerva rattled off 201 yards of offense in the second quarter alone. On the Lions' first drive of that second quarter, it took them just two plays to find points as Dalton Hartshorn took a handoff from quarterback Josey Riley around the left side and raced 70 yards to the end zone for the score.
The resilient Quakers didn't take long to answer, beginning with an electrifying return from Marcus Crittenden that set Salem up deep in Minerva territory.
Two plays later Trace Jenkins dropped back lofted a 30-yard touchdown pass to Brendan Webb that hit him in stride he crossed the goal line.
"They played that three stack; they roll that boundary player over to a hash so it opens up the boundary," Johnson said. "So we run it to the boundary and got him to come down and we can throw it over his head. And we did, we did it for a score."
Minerva wasn't fazed by the quick answer from the Quakers, and struck back with a big play of their own. On the Lions' ensuing possession, on a fourth and four, Riley dropped back and found Hartshorn streaking down the seam for 56 yards and a score.
"We were on the headsets and we wanted to score (before halftime)," Johnson said. "We thought if we can go down and score it's great. If not, it's 13-6. And then they score twice."
Over the final four minutes of the first half the Lions caught the Quakers off-guard twice when they pooched the kickoff and found themselves with the football. What they did with those turnovers, two touchdown runs by Air Force commit Jake Riley, effectively separated themselves from the Quakers with a 25-6 lead at the break.
Hartshorn caught his second touchdown of the evening in the third quarter with 19 seconds to play from Josey Riley.
Salem fought back again in the fourth quarter, and for the third time in as many weeks, Haedan Panezott broke loose with a big play. This time on the receiving end of an 80-yard touchdown pass from Trace Jenkins.
Panezott caught the pass from the slot over the middle of the field and weaved his way to get to the edge at the near sideline. With two defenders within an arms reach, Panezott turned on the speed in a foot race he often doesn't lose.
"He's a good player, he's strong," Johnson said. "Pound for pound he's our strongest guy. He's fast. He plays hard. He has that burst and you can see it on that play. Haedan is football fast."
The Quakers added another score late in the fourth quarter on a 36-yard touchdown pass from Jenkins to Webb to cap the scoring.
"I'm very proud of them," Johnson said. "They played well, and they played hard. We did some things that people didn't think that we could do which was rush the football. We converted short yardage plays."
Salem (0-8, 0-5 NBC) hosts Louisville Friday.