After a 20-14 victory over Houston last Friday night in Dent County, Salem High School’s football Tigers have now beaten their Texas County namesakes 40 consecutive times over a period of the same number of years.
Even for a casual football fan, trying to wrap your head around that is hard. That’s four decades. There are people who are 40 years old who weren’t alive last time Houston beat Salem. Jimmy Carter was president, there were no cell phones and nobody knew who Michael Jordan was.
It’s amazing. No matter how you slice it or dice it, the streak just doesn’t stand to reason.
Considering the nature and characteristics of high school football from every angle, the odds of such a thing being real would seem astronomical. And yet it is.
There are countless basic factors that should get in the way.
A miracle touchdown play (or two). A timely interception or fumble recovery. An injury to the opponent’s most integral player (or players).
Or one team having a particularly good game and the other having a bad night. Or even just some form of blind luck.
The list goes on and on.
And it’s not like Salem has blown Houston out year after year. On the contrary; even in the recent past, this series features several close games and Salem has come out on top in multiple hard-fought battles that could have gone either way.
Like two years ago when the two teams fought to a 0-0 tie in regulation and Salem scored on the first possession in overtime.
And oh yeah, like last Friday when Houston led at halftime and the 6-point spread in the final score was in large part thanks to a defensive touchdown the host Tigers scored in the first half when their offense was accomplishing very little.
And let us not forget that Houston had the ball at the Salem 4-yard line when time expired to end the first half.
Having watched in person, I can say for certain you can’t really fault Houston players for coming up short again this year.
All of the team’s “go-to” guys did their level best, and most played really good games.
Ty Franklin looked as athletic as usual at quarterback and defensive back, and made plenty of good decisions again when running the offense.
Tight end Korbyn Tune made big catches for crucial gains on offense, and hit people really hard again at linebacker. And he had yet another interception and ran it back a long way again.
Bailey Hurst was hard to bring down again when he ran the ball and Zach Fuwell was a steady workhorse who had several key carries. Chris Cichon was all over the place on defense again and Anthony Carroll had a bunch of nice carries at running back and was constantly in peoples’ faces at linebacker.
And Trevor Mitchell was – as HHS head coach Eric Sloan might say – the best “big boy” on the field on both sides of the ball (as has been the case in three out of three games so far this season).
All the other guys did admirable jobs, too, and helped the team’s effort more than they hurt it.
And in the absence of a bunch of quarantined assistants, Sloan coached his rear end off as more or less (as he said) a “one man show.”
Sure, Houston turned the ball over on fumbles twice for the third time in three games this season, but that wasn’t the main reason for the loss. Honestly, I don’t know what in the Sam Hill was the main reason for the loss, other than it was a game against Salem.
I must say that going into the contest, I had a strong feeling that there was a better-than-average chance that this time things were going to be different. And based on their heart-broken reactions afterward, I believe the players did, too.
It’s just so weird, dang it.
Anyway, as has been the case for 40 years, there’s always next year.
So here’s to hoping 2021 is the year when Houston builds a 1-game winning streak against Salem. And Lord willing, I’ll get to be on the sideline with my camera to witness it.