YPSILANTI -- Three weeks into the season, all that talk about the “rebuilding” Saline football team is fading away. Saline rushed for 302 yards and four touchdowns and gave up just 215 yards of total offense as Saline defeated Lincoln, 38-7.
Brendan Munday rushed 20 times for 192 yards and two touchdowns. MJ Griffin ran three times for 28 yards and a touchdown, while catching two passes for 22 yards and touchdown. Hayden Scott rushed 13 times for 50 yards and a touchdown. The Hornet defense gave Saline great field possession early the game as Saline built a 17-0 lead and then quashed any hopes for a comeback by holding the Railsplitters off after two Saline turnovers in the third quarter.
Saline improved to 2-1 before next week’s SEC opener at home to Bedford. Improved is the key word. A team that was looking for silver linings after an opening night loss to Chippewa Valley has suddenly struck gold.
Saline head coach Joe Palka was impressed by his team.
“Playing those two non-league teams really helped us whether we were 2-0, 1-1 or 0-2. That showed tonight. We're not afraid of anybody. If we just do our job we've got a chance to be a decent football team,” Palka said. “I'm proud of these guys. Everyone all year has been kind of apologizing for this team. We're rebuilding and all that stuff. Well, you can't tell those guys that. They think they're a real good football team and right now I'd say we're on that right track.”
The Hornets were on the road facing a Lincoln team which outscored its opponents 98-15 in the season’s first two games. Saline wanted to come out and put the Railsplitters on their heels.
“In the pre-game speech Palka told us we had to come out here and hit them in their mouth and we’ve had to hit them first,” said linebacker Connor Terech, who had 5.5 tackles. “We took it to them the first couple drives and it showed.”
The game began with JT Turner booting the kickoff into the endzone for a touchaback. On the first play of the game, the Railsplitters fumbled the ball behind scrimmage and Brad Wisniewski (4 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, one sack) and a gang of Hornets brought the runner down at the 14. Zach Sabin and MJ Griffin had tackles on the next two plays and Lincoln punted from the 15. Kolton Malinczak returned the ball to the Lincoln 48. On first down Anthony Ferrari (9-for-17, 100 yards, 1 TD) passed to Trevor Arico for five yards. Two plays later, Brendan Munday broke loose down the Lincoln sideline for a 44-yard touchdown.
“The O-Line just made a huge hole in the outside zone. There was really nobody there. I just had to outrun the safety,” Munday said.
Saline led 7-0 after Turner’s kick.
It took the Saline defense just 11 seconds to get the ball back. Turner kicked another touchback. The Railsplitters went backwards five yards on a penalty. And then Saline forced a fumble that was recovered by Kyle Greenwood. The Hornets started at the Lincoln 6. Saline went backwards after a holding call. But on 2nd-and-goal from the 15, Griffin scampered through the defense, making several Railsplitters miss along the way.
Saline’s defense came up big again on Lincoln’s third possession. Alex Morrison and Terech made tackles after very short gains on first and second downs. A third-and-long pass failed. Lincoln punted from its 23. Saline took over at its 45. A second town pass from Anthony Ferrari to Brendan Murphy gained 24 yards to the Lincoln 31. Then Ferrari passed to Munday for 16 yards to the 15. Saline couldn’t move the ball much further. On 4th-and-8, Turner kicked a 30-yard field goal.
Saline led 17-0 a little more than eight minutes into the game.
Lincoln responded with a long drive that pushed as far as the Saline 17. But penalties on two plays pushed Lincoln backwards. And on 3rd-and-17, Saline sacked Ethan Rose and knocked the ball loose. Jonah Ashby recovered. Saline’s next drive went just six yards before Brendan Cropsey punted the ball to the Railsplitters’ 45. This time, with good field position to start a drive for the first time, the Railsplitters made good. Rouse passed to Mikeal Elkins for seven yards on first down. Then Trevon Davis broke loose for a 19-yard gain. On first down, from the Saline 29, Rose faked the handoff and wheeled the other direction going the distance untouched. After the kick, Saline led 17-7 with 8:54 to play in the half.
Saline’s next drive was a good one. It began at Saline’s 19 after a 16-yard kickoff return by Griffin. Munday opened with a 16-yard rush. Ferrari passed to Munday for eight more yards. Munday moved Saline over midfield to the Railsplitters 37 with a 17-yard run. On 3rd-and-14, Ferrari throw to Lucas Ebert along the sideline for a 15-yard gain. A few players later, on 4th-and-10 from the 25, Ferrari lofted to the corner of the field. Griffin was well-covered, but he went up and made the catch at the goal line and brought it down for six points.
“The 4th down play where MJ goes up and gets it, that's just what you expect out of a stud and we're just fortunate to have him making plays for us right now,’ Palka said.
Saline led 24-7 after the kick by Turner.
The Railsplitters’ next possession began at the 35. They moved the chains once on a 20-yard pass completion that gave them the ball at the Saline 41. Davis rushed down the Saline 33 on second down. That’s where Saline’s defense came up big gain. Ashby stopped Davis for no gain on 3rd-and-2. Adonis Gammo stopped Ashby for a 3-yard loss on 4th-and-2. Saline got the ball back at its own 36 with 4:29 to play in the half. Munday gained nine yards on the ground on first down. On the next play, Ferrari threw to Munday for a two-yard gain, but the officials tacked on 15 yards for facemasking. Saline had the ball the 38. Two plays later, Hayden Scott rushed for 17 yards to the Lincoln 22.
On the next play, Munday scored a touchdown that looked a lot like his first – only half the distance. He swept around the outside to the sideline and outraced the defender into the end zone. After the kick, Saline led 31-7.
“We said we had to run the ball to be successful tonight and that was the truth. It's not an easy front to run the ball against. Munday did a lot of that. Our O-Line did a solid job tonight, but a lot of that Munday made on his own,” Palka said.
Saline took the 31-7 lead into halftime.
Saline started the third quarter with the ball after Trevor Arico’s 25-yard kickoff return. But five plays later, Ferrari’s pass for Malinczak was picked off. Lincoln started at its 46. A couple plays later, Rose found Elkins for a 40-yard pickup. Griffin pushed Elkins out of bounds at the one – which proved to be a big play. Griffin stopped Davis for no gain on first down. Then the Railsplitters went backward with a false-start penalty. On second down and six, Saline’s defense came up big. Brad Wisniewski jarred the ball loose and Saline thought they recovered the fumble. Officials ruled that Lincoln recovered the ball.
On 3rd-and-6, the Hornets were called for pass interference in the end zone. That moved the ball up to the three. On 3rd-and-3, Rose dumped a short pass off to Colby French, but again, Griffin made the stop for no gain. A fourth down pass was incomplete.
Saline held the fort.
“If you remember, Grand Rapids had that goal line stand at the end. So we’re used to it,” Terech said. “All the guys stepped up. Nobody was nervous around the goal line. We knew what we had to do. We just played physical and we made plays,” Terech said.
Saline took the ball at the three. Munday and Scott rushed the ball out to the 20. But Ferrari, under heavy pressure, was intercepted again. The Railsplitters had the ball at the Saline 15 with 5:34 to play in the quarter. Davis rushed twice for six yards. On 3rd-and-4, Wisniewski brought down Davis after a two-yard gain. But the Railsplitters’ frustration proved costly. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty sent them 15-yards backwards. On 4th-and-long, Wisniewski sacked Rose for a seven-yard loss. Saline escaped another jam.
“I'm really proud of our defense. We never bailed and relied on that lead. Our defense has so much pride,” Palka said. ‘I'm always looking for adverse situations and how we handle it. It was another growing point tonight. Adversity - and then our defense really rose up. We closed the game out with that type of play.”
Saline took over with freshman Larry Robinson behind center. Munday, Scott, Alex Morrison, Griffin, and Robison all carried the ball on a 12-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in Hayden Scott’s one-yard touchdown run.
After Turner’s kick, Saline led 38-7.
Mancino’s Pizza & Grinders 3 Stars
Brendan Munday – Munday is getting better every week. He ran 20 times for 192 yards and two touchdowns, showing elusiveness and power. He also had three catches for 26 yards.
MJ Griffin – Griffin played in every aspect of the game – offense, defense and special teams. He didn’t play a ton of minutes on offense – but his impact was profound. He rushed for a touchdown. He made a great catch for a touchdown. On defense, he made two TD-saving tackles that helped keep the Railsplitters from generating any momentum early in the third quarter.
The Defense – It’s kind of a cop out, right? Sure it is. But the defensive effort was truly a team effort. Connor Terech, Alex Morrison, Jonah Ashby, Brad Wisniewski, Adonis Gammo, Kyle Greenwood. So many players made huge contributions to the Hornets’ best effort of the season. This was a team that had scored 98 points in two games, and Saline limited them to seven.