Beating Chippewa Valley was going to be a tall order to begin with. Doing it without two senior starters who came out of the game early proved to be too much for Saline, who lost 35-21, to Chippewa Valley at Wayne State University’s Adams Field Thursday night.
Senior running back Cade Gilless, returning to football for the first time since his sophomore year, rushed 9 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Kolton Malinczak caught 10 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. Junior QB Anthony Ferrari took most of the snaps and went 10-for-22 for 110 yards. He also ran for 51 yards on nine carries. Sophomore QB Larry Robinson went 6-for-6 for 55 yards and a TD pass – with most of those plays coming on Saline’s late fourth quarter scoring drive. Robinson also ran twice for nine yards.
In terms of yardage, the game was close. Chippewa Valley gained 351 yards to Saline’s 341. Each team turned the ball over once. But the Big Reds were better at finding the plays that kept drives alive. One of the reasons they were better is because Saline lost three-year starter Alex Morrison, their inside linebacker, early in the second quarter. A few moments later, they lost second-year starting senior safety Kyle Greenwood.
“The bottom line is they had a great running back who could lean us a little bit and they were able to get big chunk plays. Not that injuries are excuses, but you lose Morrison and you lose Greenwood, it get’s pretty tough,” Saline coach Joe Palka said. “I liked the way we battled in the second half. We both scored the same amount of points, with a lot of guys we didn’t expect to play. They’re a great team. They’ve got size, they’ve got speed. They’re the measuring stick. That’s what you have to beat to be a state champion. I still think we can get there. But its going to take improvement, one day at a time.”
Saline delivered the game’s first heavy punch. The Hornets’ first possession began at their 20. A few plays later, on 3rd and 4 from their 33, Cade Gilless took the handoff from Ferrari and ran toward the Saline sideline. It looked like Gilless might get dragged down after picking up the first.
“He grabbed my jersey. I spun around and threw my arm to the ground to see if I could stay up. He let go. Everyone stopped and took off as fast as I could and no one touched me,” Gilless said.
Gilless went 67 yards for the touch down. Brendan Cropsey’s extra point made it 7-0 only 1:33 into the contest.
But Saline gave those points right back. Carde Johnson fielded a high but short kickoff in a crowd at the 25. He found his way through the crowd and then hit daylight and never looked back. The game was tied at 7 less than two minutes into the game.
Later in the quarter, the Big Reds took the lead. Myren Harris returned a bunt 27 yards to the Big Reds’ 47. Josh Kulka (13-for-14, 159 yards) used an assortment of receivers and a couple rushes by Harris (23 carries, 159 yards, 2 TDs) to move the ball deep into Saline territory. Antwaine Gunter punched it in from the two yard line. Chippewa Valley led 14-7.
Early in the second quarter, the Hornet defense was already without Morrison when they lost Greenwood. Greenwood forced a fumble by Myles Harris – recovered by Hornet LB Gino Gehrin. But Greenwood was hurt on the play and did not return. But Saline couldn’t get past midfield. The Hornets punted and the Big Reds started at their 19. Kulka completed a pass to Quillen Howze for 16 yards and then another pass to Corey Anderson for 34 yards. Myren Harris followed with two runs for 25 yards before Gunter rushed for an eight-yard touchdown with less than a minute to play in the half. Chippewa Valley led 21-7 at halftime.
Chippewa Valley extended its lead on the first possession of the third quarter. Myles Harris put the Big Reds in good position with a 40-yard return to the 43. Myren Harris scored on a 16-yard rushing touchdown to make it 28-7.
Saline kept battling and they scored before the quarter was up. Ferrari passed to Malinczak for a 20-yard gain that pushed Saline over midfield. A few plays later, Ferrari passed to Nathan Holmberg who picked up 25 yards before he was dragged down at the six. Two plays later, Gilless scored his second touchdown of the game, sweeping to his right and then making a defender miss with a quick cut before he bounced into the end zone. Cropsey’s kick made it 28-14.
Chippewa Valley replied with a touchdown drive, capped by Myren Harris’ two yard run early in the fourth quarter. Chippewa Valley led 35-14.
The Hornets added a touchdown on their last drive. Larry Robison, a sophomore, completed four straight passes (three to Malinczak and one to Holmberg) to move the ball from Saline’s 25 to the Chippewa Valley 46. Robinson then gained eight yards on a keeper. Gilless ran for 14 more yards. And then Robinson hit Malinczak with a 24-yard TD pass over the middle. Saline was down 35-21 after Cropsey’s kick.
Saline hosts Brantford Assumption next week.