The 1981 Salem Wildcats football team brought a return of glory to the program.

After five losing seasons in the past six years, which included a 2-7 record just the year before in 1980, Salem did nearly a 360 degree turnaround under first-year coach Chuck Budde.

The Wildcats came up just short in their bid to win the North Egypt Conference championship, but their 8-1 regular season record produced the first ever playoff berth for the program.

The run to the playoffs began with a 13-6 win over Centralia. Bobby Moore, who rushed for 95 yards, scored on a 16 yard run and Jeff Meador added a three-yard touchdown run to lead the way.

Danny Garrett only carried the ball twice against Red Hill, but those two carries netted 92 yards in a 43-0 win. Garrett’s biggest play was a 78 yard run. Meador added a pair of touchdowns in the win.

One of the toughest tussles was an 18-14 win over Flora. Moore scored on runs of six and 13 yards and threw a 75 yard pass to Gary Sapp for Salem’s other touchdown.

Defense sparked the Wildcats to a 41-0 win over Fairfield. Sam Phillips intercepted a pass and returned it 85 yards for one score. Mark Copple picked off a pass and ran it back 75 yards for another touchdown. Meador rushed for 119 yards and two touchdowns in the win.

In what turned out to be a showdown for the NEC title, Salem lost a 14-7 overtime struggle to Mt. Carmel. The Aces would eventually go on to win the Class 3A state championship.

Touchdown runs by Kerry Martin and Meador led the way to a 14-3 win over Lawrenceville.

The Wildcats defense forced six turnovers in a 24-14 win over Olney. Meador ran for 138 yards in the win.

Moore was the big back in a 29-12 win over Carmi with 174 yards and touchdown runs of 58 and 40 yards.

Salem clinched an at-large berth for the playoffs with an 8-1 record when it beat Benton 14-7 in the regular season finale.

The Wildcats drew Murphysboro in the opening round of the Class 4A playoffs and lost 40-6 to finish the season with an 8-2 record. Sapp scored Salem’s first and only post-season touchdown on a six yard pass from Martin.

Several individuals contributed to a defense that limited all nine of its regular season opponents to two touchdowns or less.

Mark Copple led the NEC with 13 1/2 sacks and fumble recoveries with six. Sapp led the NEC in interceptions with six. Rob Hays was the leading tackler with 106 tackles.

On the offensive end Jeff Meador was the leading rusher with 689 yards. Moore was right behind with 653 yards
Martin threw for 316 yards in the run-oriented offense. Sapp was the leading receiver with 10 catches for 195 yards. Jeff Fairchild was the number two receiver with eight catches for 170 yards.

Mark Middleton led a solid special teams game with an NEC best 36.7 yards average per punt.