A return to Hornet Stadium brought sweet victory for the Saline varsity football team.
Saline defeated Brantford Assumption 61-0, the largest margin of victory since at least 1950 for a Hornet football team, and snapped a two-game losing skid that dated back to last season.
The Hornets were overwhelming favorites, and they won by an overwhelming score. Still, it was an important win.
“Going back to last year, we’d lost two, in the playoff and the opener. So, we had to get back in the win column and feel good about starting next week,” Saline coach Joe Palka said. Saline hosts Adrian at 7 p.m. Friday.
Palka knew his team was playing a relative weak opponent, but he challenged his team to play to Saline standards.
“We wanted to play to our standards – to get better at the things we weren’t good at last week. We had a great week of practice and we challenged them to get one day better than they were yesterday,” Palka said.
Palka wanted to see better execution, improved tackling and better jump off the snap.
“I think we saw some of that this week,” Palka said.
The Hornets made quick work of the Lions, scoring 1:37 into the game, venturing to a 34-0 lead after the first quarter and taking a 55-0 lead into the halftime dressing room.
Saline rushed for 293 yards on 30 carries, scoring four touchdowns on the ground. Senior Cade Gilless ran four times for 74 yards and a touchdown. QB Robinson ran four times for 60 yards and a touchdown. Gavyn Little (5/55) and Nick Dils (2/23) also rushed for touchdowns.
Anthony Ferrari (4-for-5, 77 yards, 3 TDs) and Robinson (4-for-5, 77 yards, 1 TD) split time at QB in the first half. Austin Usher (7 rushes, 24 yards) saw duty in the second half as the Hornets stayed on the ground and ran out the clock.
Palka said the plan was to rotate Ferrari and Robinson and he felt they both did a good job, despite a couple mistakes.
“We felt we had the luxury to be able to do that and let them grow. We put it in their hands and let them both play and we’ll continue to evaluate,” Palka said.
Kolton Malinczak led all receivers with four catches for 63 yards and two TDs. Logan Plumley caught a 34-yard TD pass and Luke Darmos caught a six-yard TD pass.
The defense gave up just 139 yards. The Lions gained just 33 yards on the ground and focused instead on the air attack. It did not go well for them. They completed 12 of 33 passes and Saline picked off five passes.
Bryce Wizner led the Hornets with three interceptions. Brett Gilless intercepted a pass and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown. Luke Hoyt snuffed out the Lions’ final drive with an interception.
Joe Raupp and Augie Hutchinson each had three tackles to lead Saline. Wizner and Green each had two. Brett Baldus and Henry Koenen had 1.5 each from the middle of the D-Line.
The defense was dominant despite playing without Alex Morrison, the linebacker and three-year starter and Air Force commit, and two-year starter Kyle Greenwood, the safety. Greenwood expects to return next week, but Morrison is out for the year.
Defensive End Zach Sabin said news of Morrison’s loss was tough, but the Hornets have to find a way through it.
“We can hang our heads or we can say we’re going to play the next man up. Gino Gehrin’s doing a great job filling in at linebacker. He’s a young guy but he’s got some experience now,” Sabin said.
Saline’s defense forced a 3-and-out on the Lions’ first series. The Hornets took over at their 48 with Robinson behind center. After a run by Cade Gilless, a short pass from Robinson to Malinczak, and a 15-yard run by Robinson, Gilless scored on a 16-yard sweept, making a nice cut to hit an inside seam and reach the end zone. Saline led 7-0 after Brendan Cropsey’s kick.
Moments later, Saline had the ball gain when Wizner picked off a pass and returned it 20 yards to the Lions’ 11. Ferrari came in at QB and after a five-yard keeper, he tossed a short pass to Darmos, who took a hit and spun into the end zone.
Saline’s defense forced another 3-and-out. Robinson and the Hornets took over at their 44. A pass to Scoop Harden gained nine yards. Then Gilless ran for a 16-yard gain. Penalties set the Hornets back before Robinson found Plumley wide open for a TD pass. Saline led 21-0 after Cropsey’s kick.
The Lions managed to move the chains on their next drive, but they punted from their 29. Saline took over at its 45 with Ferrari calling the signals. Ferrari dumped a short pass to Malinczak, who turned on the jets and outraced everyone around the edge and into the end zone for a 35-yard score. Saline led 28-0.
Baldus and Koenen dropped a Lions’ running back in the backfield as the Hornets forced another 3-and-out. Saline’s next drive began at its 40 with Robinson at QB. Gavin Lytle and Robinson rushed the ball down to the 19. Lytle then ran in for a 19-yard touchdown. Saline led 34-0.
In the second quarter, the Lions picked up most of their game’s yardage on one play – a 71-yard passing play that put them on the Saline 17. But from their they went backwards. First, it was a delay of game penalty. Then Koenen tackled the running back for a two-yard loss. After two-incomplete passes and another penalty, the Lions’ missed a 41-yard field goal attempt.
Saline took over at its 20. Gilless moved the Hornets over midfield with a 33-yard gain. The Hornets marched down into the four-yard-line, where Ferrari toss a pass to Malinczak in the end zone.
Saline went up 48-0 when Brett Gilless intercepted a pass along the Lions’ sideline and ran it about 30 yards into the end zone.
Saline got the ball right back. Wizner intercepted a pass on the Lions’ next play from scrimmage.
After a 19-yard run by Lytle, Robinson ran the ball in from seven yards. Saline led 55-0 after Cropsey’s kick.
With Usher under center, the Hornets mounted a scoring drive in the second half. Dils, who’d previously had a 21-yard rush on the drive, scored from two yards out. Usher ran five times for 24 yards on the drive.
With the game’s outcome decided before the first quarter was over, the Hornets were able to use a lot of players. Sabin was pleased to see his teammates step in and enjoy the Friday night lights.
“It’s really great. They work just as hard as everyone else does. Especially the younger guys. It’s great to see them work their tails off and with scout team every week, and practice every day, and get out there and make some plays,” Sabin said.
The Saline Post 3 Stars
- Bryce Wizner – 3 interceptions and a couple tackles. That’s a huge game from a junior who stepped into a bigger role because of injuries.
- Cade Gilless – The senior rushed four times for 74 yards and a TD. (Probably closer to 90, as the Saline statistician credited Robinson with Saline’s first TD.) Gilless also caught a pass.
- Kolton Malinczak - Two more touchdown catches. Four catches for 63 yards. Malinczak now has 14 receptions for 172 yards and three TDs.