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Red Dragons’ defense clamps down Warriors

SALAMANCA — Paul Haley can see the improvements from the last time his Salamanca football team played a Maple Grove squad, but moral victories only go so far for the Warriors’ third-year coach.

In 2015, Salamanca lost to then-merged Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake 48-0 on the way to a winless season. The Warriors acquitted themselves much better by any measure Friday night in a 34-6 Section 6 Class D home opener loss to Maple Grove, but not enough to satisfy Haley.

“It's definitely better than the last time we played them but it's not where we wanted to be at all,” he said.

“It's encouraging,” he continued, “but to that point too, I feel like this team should be taking the next step where we're more competitive than today was. But once again, too, we're playing against a team that lost by a point in the state championship game. The way I feel, and I try to convey to these guys, is we should be able to play with anybody now. I'm done with the 'next year' and 'we're too young.' We need to step up and make plays.”

Salamanca’s defense started the game as well as Haley could hope, stopping the Red Dragons three straight possessions with a fumble on the opening play from scrimmage and two punts. But the Warriors’ offense — which put up 38 points in a season-opening win in Portville – never matched that success, eventually breaking when Maple Grove defensive back Tanner Easton intercepted Salamanca quarterback Zariah Armstrong to set the Red Dragons up at the Salamanca 22. Easton scored two plays later on a pass from Carson Crist, and after a Salamanca three-and-out, Maple Grove worked a short field again on a two-play, 35-yard scoring drive for a 12-0 first-quarter lead.

“Our defense, they flew around all day,” Haley said. “We just couldn't get anything going on offense and that turnover gave them a short field to start the (drive). That was a rough one because we were playing good defense, we were getting good special teams coverage and we just give them that short field. That was like the spark. Just a play where we've got to learn to throw it away or take off running with it. Then still offensively we were stuck in the mud all day.”

Three of Maple Grove’s five scoring drives started at the Salamanca 36 or closer and none took more than 57 yards to score as the Red Dragons enjoyed a 306-220 advantage in total offense.

The Warriors made up some of the yardage disparity, if not the one on the scoreboard, in the second half after being out-gained 147-36 in the first half.

Salamanca completed just five of 11 passes, but most went for big gains, including a 49-yard Tyler Hedlund touchdown from fellow junior Zariah Armstrong in the fourth quarter. Armstrong threw for 119 yards, while freshman backup Lucas McKenna made one pass for 28. Junior Ira John caught two passes for 84 yards.