After three quarters that featured lots of drama and changes of momentum, the GW Eagles found themselves trailing the Salem Spartans by only a touchdown. But the Spartans showed why they are the number-one seed in Region 4D. They scored three straight touchdowns to close the same, winning 48-21 and advancing to next week’s regional championship.
For the second straight week the Eagles used the opening kickoff set the tempo. Willie Edmunds took the kick at the five and ran through a seam in the middle. He shifted to the left side and was eventually tackled at the Salem 18. The Eagles used good field position to score on a short run from Wesley Graves. The extra point was no good, and the Eagles led 6-0.
But Salem wasted no time answering. On the second play of their next possession, quarterback Hunter Chaney hit wideout Shawn Collins with a perfectly thrown pass on a streak pattern. The 56-yard strike gave Salem a 7-6 lead. A lead they would never relinquish.
Salem’s punishing run game ground out two more scores in the second quarter to put them ahead 21-6. Salem was driving for another score late in the first half, but Eagles Free Safety Shawn Watlington picked off a pass in the end zone. The teams went into the locker room with Salem up by two scores.
With Salem getting the ball to open the second half the GW defense needed to step up. They did. They forced their only three-and-out of the night and gave the offense the football back quickly. Quarterback Shakobe Hairston hit Watlington on a beautifully run post pattern. The score made it 21-14 after Graves scored on a two-point conversion.
Salem got their two-score lead back on their next possession with an unusual play. The Spartans completed a pass into Eagle territory. As several Eagle defenders brought down the receiver, the ball squirted free. It went right into the arms of Salem Wide Receiver Jayden McDonald. He ran it in from 22 yards out to make it 28-14 Salem.
But the Eagles stormed back. Wesley Graves capped off an impressive drive with a three-yard score to make it 28-21 with less than two minutes left in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter belonged to the Spartans. They scored on the first play of the frame as Chaney found Zavion Wood from 19 yards out to make it 35-21 Spartans. An Eagle interception gave the Spartans possession. Isaiah Persinger scored from 30 yards out with less than four minutes left to make it 42-21 Salem. Cameron Leftwich scored with under a minute left to make it a 48-21 final.
Graves ended his GW career with 444 carries for 3,959 yards and 68 rushing touchdowns. His rushing TDs are a school record. His overall touchdowns (69) is a school record. Graves also scored 418 points in his career. Also a school record. He is also the only player in the modern era to lead the Eagles in rushing three years in a row.
Graves’ 3,959 yards puts him second all-time behind David Wilson at 4,222.
Hairston finished the 2019 campaign going 113-for-174 passing for 1,582 yards, 12 TDs and five interceptions. His 113 completions are the most since Hunter Byrnes in 2014.
Watlington led the Eagles in receptions for the third year in a row. He’s the first player since Herman Moore to accomplish that. Watlington’s eight two-point conversions are the most in the modern era. He ended his career with seven rushing touchdowns, 20 pass receptions for scores, two interception returns for scores, and six kick returns for touchdowns.
The Eagles close out their 2019 season with an 8-4 record. Salem (11-1) will host E.C. Glass (11-1) this Friday for the Regional Championship.
GW 9 Salem 16
GW 30-141 Salem 40-318
Pass C-A-IGW 8-16-2 Salem 6-9-1
GW 128 Salem 112
GW 269 Salem 430
(GW) Graves 17-89-2;
(GW) Hairston 8-15-128-1-1;
(Salem) Chaney 6-9-112-2-1
(GW) Shawn Watlington 3-45-1;
Shy Watlington 2-24-0;
(Salem) Leftwich 2-22-0;