WINDHAM — Traveling to play its border rival, Salem knew it would have its hands full.
But thanks to a kicker supplying all the points the Blue Devils would need and a quarterback who appears to be maturing with each outing, Salem held off pesky Windham 17-7 Saturday afternoon.
“We didn’t expect this to be a blow out,” Salem coach Rob Pike said.
“That’s a good team. Look at the teams that have beaten them — they’re really good football teams. I’m proud of my guys and I thought they played well.”
Held to a season low 169 yards rushing, Salem (5-1) needed to find yards another way. And while Kaleb Bates completed only three passes in his fourth start of the season, each of them proved crucial.
“He’s gotten a lot better as the year’s gone on,” Pike said of his sophomore signal-caller. “He’s a really coachable kid. Coach (Dan) Keleher does a great job coaching quarterbacks, and Kaleb just keeps getting better every week. It’s great to see.”
The Blue Devils grabbed a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard run by Jacob Brady on a fourth-and-goal play. Salem was set up at the 1 on a 48-yard pass from Bates to Michael Ference but was stymied on three straight runs.
“I’m feeling more comfortable,” Bates said. “It’s all coming together, and we’re playing as a team. I’m confident in all three (receivers) that we rotate in, and I feel confident throwing to all of them.”
Brady kicked the extra point and added his second field goal of the season – a 23-yarder – midway through the third for a 10-0 lead.
Bates led the Blue Devils on a 15-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 8:18 to score Salem’s final points. A 6-yard, fourth-down completion to Ference kept alive the possession, which ended on a 17-yard pass to Riley Mulvey on another fourth down play with 4:45 remaining in the game.
“We came up with a couple key (pass) plays today on key downs where he threw it right on the money,” said Pike, who was without running back Brandon Wall, recovering from a concussion. “It’s tough on a quarterback in this offense.
“You almost lull yourself off to sleep we hand off so much. But when your number is called, you have to make the play, and (Bates) has been doing that.”
Windham came close to scoring on the last play of the first half when a Hail Mary pass by Rocky Heres was tipped and caught by Bobby DiCicco but the receiver was brought down at the 2 by Jack Milos.
The Jaguars (2-4) became the third team held to fewer than 100 yards rushing by Salem, but they stayed close behind Heres’ passing.
The junior completed 11 of his 15 second-half attempts, including a 31-yard scoring toss to DiCicco with 4:22 remaining to avert the shutout. The Blue Devils do have four shutouts in six games.
Both defensive fronts were stingy against the rush, allowing 2 yards or fewer on 43 of the combined 81 running plays and zero yards or fewer on 29 rushes.
“We were reeling from a tough loss last week,” said Windham coach Jack Byrne, referring to a 46-point loss to undefeated Londonderry. “We talked about rebounding, digging in and being the hammer as much as we could. These kids are all friends. They’re real close with the Salem guys, so it’s like fighting with your brothers and that brings out the best in you.”
Next up for Salem is defending state champion Bedford, tentatively scheduled Friday at Haverhill’s Trinity Stadium. Windham travels to winless Timberlane Friday.
Salem 17, Windham 7
Salem (5-1): 7 0 3 7 — 17
Windham (2-4): 0 0 0 7 — 7
Salem — Jacob Brady 1 run (Brady kick), 7:13
Salem — Brady 23 field goal, 6:44
Salem — Riley Mulvey 17 pass from Jacob Bates (Brady kick), 4:45
Windham — Bobby Dicicco 31 pass from Rocky Heres (Adam Burke kick), 4:22
RUSHING: Salem (48-169) — Josh Maroun 26-126, Brady 6-27, Mulvey 10-22, Damian Gigante 1-1, Bates 4-(-6), Team 1-(-1); Windham (33-92) — Riley Desmarais 11-35, Heres 16-24, Dicicco 4-16, CJ Giardino 2-17
PASSING: Salem — Bates 3-6-0, 71 yards; Windham (14-23-1, 198) — Heres 13-22-1, 196; Dicicco 1-1-0, 2
RECEIVING: Salem — Michael Ference 2-54, Mulvey 1-17; Windham — Cole Peterson 5-67, Dylan Field 3-12, Dicicco 2-83, Desmarais 2-23, Jacob Dasilva 1-11, Heres 1-2