Silent beginning – Miscues and Salem’s defense doom the Vikings on opening night

The Winthrop Vikings offense never quite got untracked last Friday night at Bertram Field in Salem, as the host Witches grabbed a 14-0 victory behind some excellent linebacker play and a couples of Viking mistakes.

“Salem is a good football team, much better than they were last year, so first we have to give their defense credit,” said head coach Sean Driscoll. “Then after that, I think our mistakes also get some of the credit for the loss.”

Driscoll noted that the game was largely a defensive battle, with Salem getting their first touchdown late in the first quarter thanks in part to a gadget play that worked for a big gain and paved the way for a 6-0 Salem lead, which their defense was able to make stand up until the fourth quarter.

“The game really was a field position battle for most of the night,” said Driscoll. ‘Anytime the biggest play of the game is a trick play, then you kind of know that you have two defenses playing very hard.”

For Driscoll and the coaching staff the bright spot of the game was the Vikings’ defensive line play, with captain and defensive end Nick Doonan earning Black Shirt Award honors as the team’s best defensive player of the week and linemate Anthony Hatzisavas making a key block on Salem’s first extra point attempt.

Linemen Dan Feely was also singled out for his strong play and the unit as a whole was given a big part of the credit for keeping the game close despite the Blue and Gold’s offensive troubles.

“I think another thing that played into this game was that we knew going into it that we have a lot of first year starters, and I think we maybe underestimated the effect that would have on the players,” said Driscoll. “We love our young players and we know they’re going to continue to improve for us, but it’s one of the things you kind of have to live with, with some of the inexperience.”

Another example of the inexperience showed itself during the Vikings’ best offensive series with first year starting quarterback James Barker trying to do too much.

Midway through the third quarter, Nick McCarthy was finally clicking behind the offensive line and James Doherty contributed a nice 18-yard catch from Barker, and the Viking’s found themselves knocking on the door for a scoring opportunity.

On second goal from the Salem five yard line, Barker fumbled the snap, recovered the football and then tried to do too much with the broken play and wound up turning the ball over to the Salem defense. End of drive.

“I think Jimmy tried too hard to do something there and in hindsight he probably should’ve just fallen on the ball, but that we think that is the type of thing that he will learn from and we’re confident in his ability to take these lessons and develop into the player we think he’s going to be,” said the coach.

Driscoll said the team has bounced back from the loss well in practice this week, and is looking forward to the next two games at home despite the fact that the competition gets even tougher.

“We’re not going to dwell on the loss, it’s behind us, the team has put it in the rearview mirror and we’ve had two very good practices already this week,” he said. “We’re getting ready for a very, very good Lynn English team, coming in here Friday night to Miller Field and we’ll aim to make this our first win.”

Driscoll said the team still has the goal of winning the Northeast Conference Small Division, and despite the loss to Salem that goal remains their focus.

“We’ve got these first five games (against NEC Large opponents) to get better as a football team, so that we can still win the Small division, when we get to that part of our schedule,” said Driscoll. “This week against the Bulldogs will be the next step in that growing process.”

The Vikings will take the field at 7 p.m. on Friday.

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