LYNN — The night began with talk of four Lynn football teams running the table through next week. It ended with one of them down, and another — English — exhaling mightily after nearly getting upended itself.
Salem threw a major-league scare into the Bulldogs Friday night, coming within a holding penalty on a 2-point conversion attempt that would have been successful had it not been flagged dead. As a result, it was English taking the 13-12 win at Manning Field.
After taking a 13-0 lead at halftime, and stopping Salem deep in Bulldog territory to start the third quarter, it looked as if the Bulldogs had this one wrapped up.
But Salem, 4-2, mounted a comeback that culminated when the Witches scored their second touchdown of the night, with 1:09 to go on a 1-yard Vinnie Gaskins run.
Gaskins scooted around the right end and trotted into the end zone with what looked to be the conversion that would have given Salem the lead. But just before he went in, the flag dropped.
“I mean, if (the referee) saw it, then he had to call it,” said Salem’s Matt Bouchard. “It was really tough for me to see. I was on the other side of the field.
“But I can’t tell you how proud I am of these kids,” Bouchard said. “I’ve had these guys for four years and they’ve scratched and clawed to get better so they could be in a position to play these kinds of games.”
On the ensuing play, run from the 12, Aneudy Espinal passed to Jeffrey Rodriguez, who deked on tackler but couldn’t escape Matt Severance, who finally brought him down at the 2-yard line.
“I saw him get by the first guy and I said, ‘oh, no!'” English coach Chris Carroll said.
Carroll, sporting stitches after colliding with a player in the post-game celebration, was a little perplexed at how quickly the game turned.
“All of a sudden,” he said, “we couldn’t stop anyone.
“But,” he said, “what I take away from this is that we’re NEC South champs, we’re 6-0, and it’s a credit to all these kids as to how we’ve turned this program around. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
English sprung out to a 13-0 halftime lead when Ski Gaston scored from a yard out with 7:08 left in the half. The Bulldogs increased that lead with 23 seconds to go in the second quarter — shades of last week’s game against Swampscott — when Gaston scored again, this time from three yards out.
But after being stopped after getting as far as the English 14, Salem turned it around. First, it held English to a three-and-out. Then the Witches put together a 7-play drive that ended with Espinal taking it in from the one.
English looked as if it would run out the clock and possibly score on its next possession, but on a third down from the Salem 14, the Bulldogs fumbled, with Salem recovering.
A couple of untimely English penalties helped Salem along in its second touchdown drive, and when Gaskins scored the touchdown, it looked as if the night’s second upset was in the making.
Salem, sensing the momentum switch, went for two. But the penalty stopped the Witches cold.