GRAND BLANC -- Saline rolled to its eighth straight win, 31-7, at Grand Blanc. The Hornets finish the season with an 8-1 record and are now waiting to see the playoff bracket.
Led by Brendan Munday (20 carries, 142 yards) and MJ Griffin (7 carries, 89 yards, 1 TD), Saline piled up 302 yards of rushing. All four Saline touchdowns came on the ground. Joel Klomega rushed 10 times for 27 yards and two touchdowns and Hayden Scott rushed six times for 28 yards and a touchdown.
Coach Joe Palka said he was proud of his team, which is undefeated since their opening night loss to Chippewa Valley.
“I’m pretty proud of our kids. Losing that first game was tough and I don’t think many people had us coming back to win eight straight,” Palka said.
He credited the work of his staff and the buy-in from the players.
“I think we have a great staff that really just works on getting kids better. The other thing is you have to give credit to the kids. They have a belief that Saline football is going to win games. It doesn’t matter who’s in there – it’s next man up, mentality,” Palka said. “When we had that tough game and the injury to (starting QB) Andrew (Arbaugh), we had our backs to the wall and it was the defense that stepped up for us and we made just enough plays to win. It’s just kids with mental toughness and getting one-day-better – and if you believe in that, you’ve got a chance.”
At Grand Blanc, the Hornets were facing a team fighting for their season. With five wins, the Bobcats needed a win clinch a playoff spot. Saline, meanwhile, had already won its division and earned a position in the playoffs. Saline wanted the win to earn a home playoff game. But there was something else at stake.
“It’s game nine, we’ve already clinched a playoff spot. It’s all about demeanor. Are we going to continue to get better or rest on your laurels. I think we answered the bell tonight and answered that question,” Palka said.
That wasn’t the only question answered Friday night.
Saline’s defense stopped the Bobcats cold. Adonis Gammo stopped a Bobcat behind scrimmage on first down and then made another tackle on third down. The Bobcats punted from their 21 – and it went just 14 yards.
Coach Palka said the Hornets came out determined to prove wrong anyone who might question the Hornets’ physicality.
Saline wasted no time scoring. Munday ran a couple times for a first down at the 23.
Two plays later, MJ Griffin took the snap, shook off one tackler, trucked another and then followed his block into the end zone.
“I think MJ answered that question right away,” Palka said. “The team rallied behind it and got fired up to play physical football on a cold windy night.”
Saline led 7-0 after JT Turner’s kick.
Grand Blanc’s next drive made it to the Saline 46 before the Hornets pushed back. Gammo and Zach Sabin brought down QB Tylor Leedom for a six-yard loss. The Hornets dropped Leedom again. A delay of game pushed the Bobcats back to their 36. The Bobcats punted from their 47 and Saline took over at its 26.
Saline pushed as far as the Grand Blanc 33 but a false start penalty on 3rd-and-4 stifled the attack. A fourth down passing play failed. Grand Blanc took over at its 34. But on the first play of the second quarter, Brad Wisniewski knocked the ball out of Easton Edward’s grasp. Alex Morrison recovered. The Hornets took over at their 48. Saline moved the chains once but punted from Bobcats’ 45. Brendan Cropsey’s punt was caught at the 20 and returned seven yards.
It looked like the Hornets defense might force a 3-and-out, but on 4th-and-1, Leedom reversed the field, slipped a tackle and went 47 yards for a first down at the Saline 17. On 2nd-and-7 from the 14, Kyle Greenwood rushed the quarterback and dropped him for an 11-yard loss. On 3rd-and-18, Morrison made sure Sylvester Jones was stopped far short of the marker. On a cold, windy day, the Bobcats lined up for a 35-yard field goal attempt. It went wide and Saline still led.
Griffin kickstarted Hornet offense by taking the snap and running for 20-yards on the next play from scrimmage. Munday followed with a nine-yard gain. A couple plays later, Griffin rushed for another 31-yards to the Bobcat 15. Munday pushed forward for another 11-yard gain.
Joel Klomega finished the drive with a four-yard run into the end zone. Saline led 14-0 after Turner’s kick.
Saline got the ball back a little less than two minutes later. On 3rd-and-6, Brad Wisniewski stopped Jones after a one-yard gain. The Bobcats punted from their 43. Saline took over at its 15. Munday rushed the ball three times to get out to the 37.
Two plays later, Andrew Arbaugh tossed a short pass over the scrum to Munday. Munday broke one tackle and then got a great block from Brendan Murphy before he was pushed out of bounds at the Bobcats 2. Two plays later, Klomega and the line pushed their way in for another touchdown.
Saline led 21-0.
It was Klomega’s fourth touchdown in three weeks. Palka said Klomega has turned a corner and become an important playmaker for the Hornets.
“Joel was a question mark and at one point talked about wanting to move to receiver. We said ‘stay the course and have confidence’ and he just took it upon himself to become a great practice player. He does everything hard and fast,” Palka said. “He runs scout team running back for us as well. That translated into game play. We always say make plays in practice and you’ll get chances in games, and this is a classic case of that.”
The second half began with Saline starting at its 20. Munday rushed for 22 yards on first down. On 3rd-and-4, Klomega picked up seven yards on the ground. Andrew Arbaugh passed to Murphy and Munday to keep the drive moving. On 4th-and-1 from the Bobcats’ 10, Munday picked up four yards. That was followed by a two-yard run by Klomega and then a four-yard touchdown run by Hayden Scott. Saline led 28-0.
Palka said the run game continues to develop.
“We continue to block better. What was a young offensive line is starting to mature. All of our backs have practiced really well and consequently they’re playing well. That’s become a strength of our team,” Palka said.
The next five minutes of the contest were the Hornets’ worst of the game. First, the Hornets were called for offside on the kickoff. Malik Basher-Cager caught the next kickoff at the 20 and returned it to the Bobcats’ 47. The Hornets were called for a personal foul, moving the ball to the Saline 38. On 3rd-and-10, Saline pressured the quarterback and forced an errant throw. But the Hornets were called for pass interference. That gave the Bobcats a first down at the Saline 23. A few players later, facing 4th-and-11, the Bobcats picked up 12 yards.. Two plays later, Leedom rushed in. The extra point was good. Saline led 28-7.
The Hornets added to their lead on their next possession. On 3rd-and-9, Arbaugh passed to Brendan Murphy for 23-yards. A face mask penalty tacked on another 14 yards. Hayden Scott rushed twice for 14 yards. A couple plays later, Munday ran for 14 yards to the Bobcats’ 10 – but it was called back 15 yards because of unsportsmanlike conduct. Klomega got eight of those yards back on the next play and then Munday moved the chains with a five yard pick up. Saline settled for JT Turner’s 23-yard field goal. Saline led 31-7.
Palka was not happy with the penalties that gave the Bobcats their touchdown or the one that cost the Hornets a good shot at a touchdown.
“We’re going to get those corrected, right away on Monday,” Palka said.
With next week’s opponent unknown until Sunday, the Hornets won’t have their normal Saturday routine. Instead, the team gets together Sunday at Pizza House to watch the playoff selection show.
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- MJ Griffin – Set the tone with the 24-yard TD run to open the scoring and also had two big runs on the Hornets’ scoring drive.
- Brendan Munday – Somehow, despite nearly 200 yards of offense, Munday didn’t make the end zone – which is kind of odd for one of the most prolific touchdown scorers Saline’s had over the last decade. Munday ran 20 times for 142 yards and caught one pass for 54 yards.
- Alex Morrison – Made 8.5 tackles and had a tackle for a loss. Morrison and the Hornets bent a few times but broke only once – and the outcome of the game was already determined when that happened.