A bigger and stronger Chippewa Valley team proved too difficult contain as Saline fell 31-26 on opening night at Hornet Stadium Thursday.
It was a loss that stung – because Saline led 13-0 in the first quarter after three great defensive stands and three offensive possessions that resulted in points. There were also costly mistakes along the way.
But Saline coach Joe Palka, never one to preach about moral victories after a loss, did find positives in the Hornets’ strong effort against one of the state’s best football teams.
“Losing is unacceptable. We talked about that in the locker room. But to be honest, I feel differently today than I did a year ago when we lost to Rockford. I feel differently today than when we lost to Canton. I feel there are really some things to build on here. I thought a lot of kids made great plays. You look at (Kolton) Malinczak, you look at (Brendan) Munday and you look at (Andrew) Arbaugh and some of the plays our defense made. There are some things to get excited about,” Palka said. “We just need to get everyone up a notch and build on what we did today.”
Senior QB Andrew Arbaugh, making his first start, completed 23 of 34 passes for 283 yards. Saline struggled to run the football (18 carries for 21 yards) and used a short passing attack to move the football. Malinczak caught seven passes for 77 yards. Munday (five passes for 67 yards), Brendan Murphy (four passes for 59 yards and one TD) and MJ Griffin (five passes for 54 yards) were the primary targets. Joel Klomega also caught one pass for 26 yards. Munday rushed eight times for 21 yards and a TD. Hayden Scott also rushed in for a TD.
On the defense, LB Alex Morrison made 10.5 tackles and LB Connor Terech made five tackles. DE Brad Wisniewski made 5.5 tackles, sacked Chippewa Valley QB Tommy Schuster and had three tackles for a loss. DT Adonis Gammo made 5.5 tackles and had 1.5 tackles for a loss. DE Jonah Ashby also had three tackles and one tackle for a loss. DT Zach Sabin had one tackle behind scrimmage. Safety MJ Griffin made five stops.
JT Turner went 2-for-2 on field goals and 2-for-3 on extra points. Klomega had a 51-yard kick-off return that set up Saline’s late touchdown. Alex Morrison returned two kicks for 65 yards.
Saline’s defense came out swinging and seemed to stun the Big Reds – at least for the first quarter.
“I think we caught them a little bit by surprise and blitzed them a little bit more than they probably anticipated,” Palka said.
On the first play from scrimmage, Safety Kyle Greenwood blitzed and hit Schuster hard a second after he released a hurried, incomplete pass. Wisniewski and Gammo stopped the runner in the backfield on second down and Saline forced a 3-and-out.
The Hornets began their drive at Chippewa Valley 48. Arbaugh moved the ball down field with a keeper and a pass to Griffin. Munday powered is way down to the goal-line – an inch shy of a TD – with a 10-yard run.
On the next play, he followed a mass of Hornets over the goal line. JT Turner’s kick was good. Saline led 7-0.
The Big Reds’ second drive went nowhere, with Isaac Zambeck making a tackle on first down, an offensive penalty, and incomplete pass on third. Chippewa Valley punted from their 21 – and it wasn’t a good one. Saline started at the Big Reds’ 45. Arbaugh completed consecutive passes to Murphy and Griffin.
He then passed to Malinczak, who spun out of a tackle and ran to the five for a 20-yard pick up. The drive stalled and the Hornets settled for Turner’s 26-yard field goal.
It was more of the same from the Saline defense on the next possession. Terech and Morrison made tackles on the first two downs and Grant Sitterly stopped the rusher short on third down. The Big Reds punted. Saline took over at its 38. On 3rd-and-9, Arbaugh connected with Griffin, who gained 26 yards on a nice run before he was pushed out of bounds. Again, on 3rd-and-9, Arbaugh and Malinczak connected, this time a 29-yard pick-up down to the Big Reds’ five. But again, the Hornets couldn’t punch it in.
Turner’s 23-yard field goal attempt was good. The Hornets felt good about their 13-0 lead, but their inability to find the end zone on those two drives proved costly.
Because when the second quarter began, Schuster and the Big Reds’ offense seemed to find their groove. Schuster engineered a 14-play drive that went 80 yards, capped by Andre Chenault’s nine-yard run into the end zone.
Saline’s offense bounced right back with a 65-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown in a three-yard touchdown run by Hayden Scott. The drive featured some tense moments and great plays. On 4th-and-1 at Saline’s 44, Palka called for a pass and Arbaugh connected with Munday for a two-yard gain.
On the next play, Munday made a great one-handed catch along the Saline sideline for a 19-yard gain to get into Big Reds territory.
A few plays later, Brendan Murphy caught and Arbaugh pass and carried couple Big Reds’ with him for a few more yards for a 27-yard pickup. After a penalty for a chop block, the ball was spotted at the three.
From there, Scott punched it in. The kick by turner was no good. Saline led 19-7.
By now, the Big Reds’ offense was playing with confidence. They went 69-yards on nine plays to score a touchdown. Schuster passed to Maurice Bunting for the 29-yard touchdown score.
“I’m not sure how much they adjusted. They probably went to running the ball a little bit more. Those backs are big,” Palka said.
As well as the Hornets’ played, there’s a feeling they could have pulled this one out.
“The inability to score. The missed extra point. The blown coverage. The turnover on the first play of the second half. There are so many things you can point to and a lot of them were game-one mistakes from a young team,” Palka said. “I think we did a lot of good things, but we certainly have enough to work on and clean up so we have a chance to win next week.”
Saline led 19-14 at halftime.
The Hornets needed a good start to regain momentum in the second half. Instead, they fumbled the ball away on the first play from scrimmage. The Big Reds started at the Saline 22. The Hornet defense put up a wall and held them to just four yards. Chippewa Valley settled for a field goal. But they inched closer. Saline’s lead was 19-17.
Morrison returned the kickoff 27 yards to the Saline 28. With Brendan Munday on the bench with cramps, Saline struggled to move the ball. The Hornets punted from the 32. Turner’s 41-yard punt was touched by Griffin at the Saline 32. On first down, Myren Harris broke loose for a 41-yard pickup. Two plays later, Schuster passed over the middle to Marcel Lewis, who eluded several tacklers before diving into the corner of the end zone after a great run. Chippewa Valley led, 24-19.
Saline’s next drive made it to midfield after a 26-yard catch by Klomega. After a penalty, the Arbaugh was sacked on 3rd-and-14. Turners’ 48-yard rolled to the Big Reds’ seven. On first down, got the Big Reds out of trouble with a 29-yard run. Later in the drive, Ja’von Kimpson went 34-yards before Griffin brought him down at the Saline two. Two plays later, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Kimpson scored. The kick was good and Chippewa Valley led 31-19.
It looked like the game might get out when on fourth down, in Saline territory, the snap bounced to Turner. He couldn’t punt, so he ran and was dragged down at the Saline 20. But the Hornet defense answered the call. Jonah Ashby came up with tackles and the Big Reds’ were forced to attempt a field goal, which veered a few feet wide.
With 4:58 to play, the Hornets went to work at their own 20. Arbaugh passed to Munday for a 45-yard gain to the Big Reds 24.
On the next play, Arbaugh went the other direction to Murphy, who steamrolled one tackler and then ran into the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown. Saline was down 31-26 with three minutes to play.
“As bad as it was in the third quarter and part of the fourth quarter, we didn’t pack it in. I really felt like if we could have got the ball back, maybe we punch another one in,” Palka said,
Saline couldn’t get the ball back and Chippewa Valley won the game.
The Hornets now turn their attention to Grand Rapids Catholic Central – back to back Division 4 state champs.
“You’ve got a two-time defending state champ coming in with Division 1-type talent. But I’m encouraged by what I saw today. Starting tomorrow morning, we’ve got to start correcting mistakes and keep getting better to have a chance to win next week,” Palka said. “That’s what you get when you have a tough schedule. We knew what we were getting into and we’re going to battle through it.”
Mancino's Pizza and Grinders 3 Stars
- Alex Morrison – Led the defense with 10.5 tackles. Also looked great on two kickoff returns.
- Andrew Arbaugh – Made several big plays in key situations in his debut as starting QB. Strong start
- Brendan Munday – Couldn’t make it work on the ground, but Munday had several great catches that were key plays on scoring drives, and the Hornets’ felt it when he had to leave the game.