The Hornets defense may bend. But it doesn’t break. As a result, the Saline High School varsity football team has a datefor a rematch with Pioneer next Friday night in the MHSAA Division 1 District Final.
Saline built a 16-0 on Bedford Friday and then survived a furious push from the Kicking Mules to win 16-14. The victory was Saline’s ninth of the season, matching the best win total in season history. The Hornets are 9-1. They earned nine wins in 2006 (9-3), 1990 (9-1), 1985 (9-2), 1983 (9-1), and 1979 (9-0).
Saline built a 16-0 lead on two Kevin Gross rushing touchdowns and a field goal by Gage Hammond.
Bedford gained nearly all of its 249 yards of offense on two scoring drives in the fourth quarter. The second touchdown, with 41 seconds left, drew Bedford to within two points. A two-conversion to tie the game failed, with the pass taking the receiver out of bounds. Saline QB Tyler Palka caught the ensuing onside kick and the Hornets were victorious.
Early in the rematch, it looked like Saline and Bedford might be setting up for a defensive struggle. Saline punted from its 21 and Bedford went 3-and-out after a big third down tackle by Matt Barbu.
The Hornets revved up the offense on their next possession, driving 81 years on 11 plays in 3:56. The drive started with a 12-yard run by Palka and an 11-yard-gain on a screen pass to Hammond. Griffin Wooley had a couple good runs for Saline to move over midfield. Hammond moved Saline into the red zone, gaining 29 yards on a reverse. After getting a first down at the Bedford five, Gross rushed in from four yards out. A bad snap foiled the extra point attempt and Saline led 6-0.
Saline’s defense forced another 3-and-out on the next Bedford possession. This time it was Caleb Ashby (11 tackles, two tackles for a loss, one pass broken up) catching up to a Bedford back to stop him for no gain on 3rd-and-4.
Saline moved the ball effectively up the field, stating at its 36. A pass to Jimmy Craig and pass to Hammond gave Saline a first down at midfield to end the first quarter. Hammond gained 20 yards on a short pass. Runs by Wooley and Gross gave Saline a first down at the Bedford 12. The Hornets thought they scored on 3rd-and-8. AJ Korzuck made a diving catch in the end zone. The official signaled a touchdown. As the Hornets celebrated, a second official ran over and, after a brief talk, the call was reversed. Hammond kicked a 23-yard field goal and Saline led 9-0.
Bedford managed a first down on its next drive, but that was it. On first-and-10 from the Bedford 32, Nick Sekerak (10 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss – despite missing most of the second half) stopped the Bedford runner for a two-yard loss. On 4th-and-3, Bedford’s fake punt attempt was thwarted by Sekerak.
Saline had the ball at the Bedford 39 with a chance to open up the game. On 4th-and-8, AJ Korzuck got his hands on a 37-yard pass into the end zone but couldn’t hang on as he was hit.
Bedford took over at its own 37 with 4:48 to play in the half. The Mules moved the ball over midfield and to the Saline 31 before the Hornets pushed back. Sekerak dropped Shepherd for a four-yard loss on first down. Two plays later, 3rd-and-15, Sekerak nearly got to Bedford QB Brad Boss, who dangerously threw the ball up to avoid the sack. A fourth-down pass attempt was no good.
Bedford began the second looking to build on the little bit of progress it made on its last first-half drive. After moving out to mid-field, the drive ended and Bedford punted from its 45. The punt wasn’t very good. Saline took over at its 44. Hammond gained 26-yards on another reverse. Runs by Palka, Gross and Wooley gave Saline a first down at the Bedford 18. On the next play, Gross danced up the middle for an 18-yard rushing touchdown. The kick by Hammond gave Saline a 16-0 lead.
Saline’s defense was unrelenting, giving up seven yards on the next three plays. With time becoming a factor, Bedford attempted and converted a 4th-and-3 from its own 34. But Bedford went two yards on the next three plays and punted on 4th-and-8. Unfortunately for Saline, Sekerak was hurt on third down and did not return to the game.
Saline’s offense moved the ball 29 yards on three plays and appeared on the march again when Palka’s pass was intercepted by Corey Scheurer at the Bedford 15 with 1:26 to play in the third quarter. It started slowly, and needed a 4th-and-1 conversion at its own 24-yard line, but the Mules put together an 85-yard scoring drive that ended with a one-yard keeper by Boss with 7:12 to play in the fourth quarter.
On their next possession the Hornets tried to move the ball up the field while eating minutes off the clock. Saline faced a 3rd-and-6 at the Bedford 30 when it was assessed a 5-yard penalty. The drive stalled. Hammond’s 44-yard field goal attempt was off the mark and Bedford took over at its own 20 with 3:12 to play.
The Mules converted a big 3rd-and-7 early on their next drive to keep their hope alive. A couple plays later, a Brad Boss pass to Shepherd moved Bedford over midfield to the Saline 40. On 3rd-and-10, Collin Carter made a great catch to give Bedford a first down at the Saline five yard line. On the next play, Boss ran it in for a touchdown.