Salmen was 0-5 going into Friday night’s game at Lakeshore.
And halfway through the third quarter of their District 9-4 opener, the Spartans appeared headed for 0-6, an almost-unthinkable situation for a traditionally strong program.
But a heads-up play by the coach’s freshman son changed the momentum as Salmen scored the final 34 points to defeat the Titans 41-21, extending domination of the young series to 4-0.
With his team trailing 21-7, L.J. — that stands for Little Jerry — Leonard ran down a bad punt snap inside his 20 and somehow managed to kick the ball past midfield.
Without that kick, Lakeshore is looking at a three-touchdown lead. Instead, the Spartans stopped the Titans, forced a punt and put together the first of four straight touchdown drives that carried them to victory.
“I don’t know how he got it off,” Jerry Leonard said. “I don’t think it was my coaching. But it made a huge difference.”
It did, and the Spartans continued to make alert plays the rest of the night.
After Johnny Lowrey’s 4-yard run made it 21-13 (Leonard’s PAT attempt was blocked), Garen Tinson recovered the ensuring kickoff at the Lakeshore 29 and, despite a holding penalty that pushed them back, quarterback Jamie Passaro connected with Robert Hayes for a 26-yard TD pass on fourth down to bring the Spartans within two.
On the next series, a bad punt snap by Lakeshore was picked up by Austin Pohlman and returned to the Titans 30. Another holding call pushed the ball back to the 40, but Lowrey went 40 yards on the next play to give Salmen its first lead.
A 5-yard TD run by Lowrey, his third of the game, and a 68-yard interception return by Erskine Francis ballooned the final margin to 20.
“We let it get away from us,” Lakeshore coach Craig Jones said. “We talked some this week about having never beaten Salmen, but it’s just one game on the schedule.”
Lakeshore (2-4, 0-1) dominated before Leonard’s punt.
The Titans stopped the Spartans at midfield on the opening series and went the distance in 10 plays, with quarterback Dylan Fields scoring from the 9.
Salmen tied it on a 17-yard pass from Passaro to Hayes, but Lakeshore used a fumble recovery by Luke Tullier at the Spartans 31 to start a scoring drive capped by David Ducre’s 5-yard run.
A interception by Orvin Connor at his 10 stopped a Salmen threat late in the half, and the Titans began the third quarter with a 65-yard TD drive that saw Fields keep from the 19 for a score.
Leonard’s punt came after the next series, a three-and-out. It was his only one of the night.
“There’s a lot of pride in this program, and that’s why there was no sense of panic by anybody and that’s why everybody stayed positive and we all kept pulling on the same rope,” Jerry Leonard said.
“We had a good game plan going in, and tonight was a coming of age for some of our kids. Football and sports in general is about overcoming adversity. If I can describe this team in one word, it’s ‘tenacious.’ ”