Saline outmatched host Tecumseh in almost every way imaginable in Friday’s 63-14 victory.
Connor Hibbard carried the ball 11 times for 168 yards and four touchdowns and Zach Schwartzenberger completed 9 of 11 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown. Bryce Wolma caught five of those passes for 85 yards and a touchdown.
Saline, which has already clinched the SEC Red title, improved to 8-0. The Hornets, who’ve won 24 straight regular season games, host Birmingham Groves next Friday in a matchup of two unbeaten teams.
Coach Joe Palka said the Hornets played at a high level for most of the game.
“People think that you might have a let-down game when you go on the road after a big win against Monroe last week. We challenge our guys to keep getting better every week. I thought we did a nice job across the board. It was a good overall team effort,” Palka said.
It took the Hornets just two plays and 27 seconds to get on the board. First Emmett Turner returned a short kickoff 28 yards to the Tecumseh 40. On first down, Schwartzenberger ran 13 yards. On second down, Hibbard ran 30 yards for the touchdown. Saline led 7-0 after JT Turner’s kick.
Tecumseh gave the home fans something to cheer about with a fast replay. On 2nd-and-9 from the 21, under pressure, Alex Foss threw a screen pass to Ryan Roberts, who went all the way to the end zone. Roberts rushed in for a two-point conversion and Tecumseh led 8-7 only 90 seconds into the game.
Tom Raupp pulled in a short Indian kickoff and Saline started at its 45. On 2nd-and-10, Schwartzenberger passed to Wolma along the Saline sideline. Wolma stumbled two yards short of the end zone. On the next play, Hibbard rushed in from two yards out. Turner’s kick made it 14-8 Saline.
The Saline defense stopped Tecumseh on the next series.
Sean O’Keefe stopped Roberts for a one-yard loss on second down. Robbie Felton stopped Jordan Patterson after a short gain on third. Tecumseh punted. Saline took over at its 15. On first down Schwartzenberger connected with Andrew Diuble for a 14-yard gain. On the next play, Hibbard smashed and juked his way to the Indian 19 for a 52-yard pickup. He followed that up with a 14-yard run and then a five-yard touchdown run. Saline led 21-8 just 2:11 into the game.
Saline’s defense forced another 3-and-out on Tecumseh’s next series. On 2nd-and-5, Nathan Powers and Sean O’Keefe stopped Roberts for no gain. On third down, Philip Barnett provided good coverage on a pass attempt. Tecumseh punted again.
The Hornets’ next drive started at their 35. The 65-yard drive was mostly through the air. On the run, Schwartzenberger hit Turner for a 12 yard pickup. After an incomplete pass, Hibbard rushed for four yards. Then Schwartzenberger threw a short pass to Diuble, who picked up 44 yards before he was brought down.
On the next play Schwartzenberger threw to Wolma in the corner of the end zone. Saline led 28-7.
The high-octane first quarter continued when Tecumseh QB Alex Foss handed off to his running back, who tossed it back to Foss who, in turn, threw a long pass to Drew Cameron for a 39-yard touchdown. Tecumseh’s two-point conversion was no go good. The Hornets led 28-14.
Penalties momentarily stalled Saline’s next drive. On 3rd-and-10 from the 50, Hibbard ran for 16 yards on the final play of the quarter. Hibbard followed that up with a 21-yard gain. Two plays later Schwartzenberger broke free for a 29-yard touchdown run. Saline led 35-15 after Turner’s kick.
O’Keefe set the tone for the next defensive series by dropping Foss for a two-yard loss on first down. Tecumseh punted three plays later. Saline took over at its 47. Schwartzenberger engineered an eight-play, 53-yard drive that ended with a five-yard touchdown run by Hibbard – his fourth of the night. Turner’s kick made it 42-14.
The Indians managed to move the chains once on their next possession because of a pass interference penalty. But on 3rd-and-9, CJ Gildersleeve exploded though the line and sacked Foss for a give-yard loss. The Indians punted again.
On the next drive, Cole Daniels and Brendan Munday took turns rushing the football. The 59-yard drive ended with Munday rushing in from one yard out. Vinnie Patteri’s kick made it 49-14 with 2:03 to play before the half.
On Saline’s first drive of the third quarter, Daniels passed to Brendan Murphy on 3rd-and-8 to move the chains. On the next play Brenan Munday found a hole up the middle and ran 54 yards for a touchdown. Patteri’s kick was good. Saline led 56-14.
The Hornets spent most of the rest of the half mercifully killing the clock. The defense gave up just one first down in the second half.
J Drew McGovern finished off the scoring with a 48-yard keeper with 4:54 to play. Patteri’s kick made it 63-14.
Coach Palka was especially happy with the defense.
“We had a couple negative yardage plays, but I thought our receivers blocked well down field and allowed us to pick up extra yards,” Palka said. “And honestly Zach threw the ball as well as I’ve seen him. They were playing cover-0 and there wasn’t a lot of room. He made some great throws. And our playmakers turned simple plays into big plays.”
And while the defense gave up two touchdowns on big plays, it was mostly stifling.
“In the grand scheme of things it was a double pass that we had not practiced event and a screen pass which we had practiced against. So we have a little bit off work to do. We want to start faster than we did, but once we settled down I was happy with our play,” Palka said.
Despite the opportunity to clinch a second undefeated regular season and the opportunity to lock up potential home games, perhaps as deep as the regional game, Palka isn’t worrying too much about a victory against Birmingham Groves. Palka is expecting a tough game that will prepare the Hornets for the playoffs.
“They are one of the best teams in Division 2. They beat Oak Park, they beat Southfield. They beat Farmington Hills Harrison. They have great athletes and they are well-coached. You’re going to have one of the best teams in Division 1 against one of the best teams in Division 2. It should be a great matchup,” Palka said. “We just want to keep getting better. We’re not going to put a lot of stock in the records or about going undefeated. What I’m looking at is, win or lose, a great test for the playoffs.”
Mancino’s Pizza and Grinders 3 Stars
Connor Hibbard – 11 carries for 168 yards? That’s a first down and a half every run. Hibbard added four more touchdowns to his growing collection.
- Zach Schwartzenberger – Coach Palka said his throwing was the best he’s seen. He was precise with his passes. He also showed the ability to scramble out of the pocket and complete passes. He rushed five times for 81 yards and a TD.
- Sean O’Keefe – The big DE led the Hornets in tackles (4) and tackles for a loss (2).