Saline (11-1) vs Clarkston (10-2)
When: 1 p.m., Saturday
Where: Okemos High School (Map it) 1 Hour and 15 minutes from SHS.
Weather: 34 degrees all game (feels like 30). Light wind.
Live Stream: Click here (subscription)
Twitter Updates: @TheSalinePost, @SalineAthletics
Live Stats: Click here.
What’s at stake: A trip to Ford field to play in the championship game against Chippewa Valley or Belleville.
Rematch: Clarkston defeated Saline, 33-25 in the state championship game in 2014.
Media predictions: Mick McCabe: Saline 30, Clarkston 24, Detroit News: Saline takes 2 of 3 predictors, WDIV: Clarkston, Dzone: Saline by 3. MLIVE: Saline 10, Clarkston 7.
The last time Saline football team played in wintery weather was 2014. The Hornets defeated Detroit Cass Tech 30-15 in Troy and advanced to the state championship game. It was there the Hornets first met the Clarkston Wolves, who were defending their state championship. Clarkston came away with a 33-25 victory.
While all the players from that game are gone, Saline is out for revenge. The prize? Saline’s second trip to Ford Field for the chance to play for the state championship.
Once again, Saline finds itself prepping for a battle against a defending state champion. Clarkston defeated West Bloomfield, 3-2, in last year’s game. If you’re wondering if the Wolves’ defense is that good again this year, the answer seems to be yes.
Last week, the beat Lapeer 13-0. Lapeer opened the playoffs by putting up 35 points in each of its first two victories (including a 35-0 victory over Grand Blanc, who Saline beat 31-7 the previous week). So far, in three games, the Wolves have given up 13 points in three games.
That’s even better than what Saline’s dominating defense has managed to do (26 points – 20 in regulation).
Suffice it to say, Saline coach Joe Palka is counting on a low scoring game.
“These are two really good defenses. Points and yards will be at a premium. We just have to hang in there and keep battling. I think that’s a valuable lesson we learned last week. Just keep playing. Just keep fighting,” Palka said. “Our goal will be to have another low-scoring game and to run more efficiently than last week.”
Saline’s 13-12 overtime victory over Rockford was the stuff legends of which legends are made. The game was scoreless at halftime. JT Turner kicked field goals in the third and fourth quarter to give Saline a 6-0 lead. Rockford tied the score on a punt return. Noah Nelson blocked the extra point attempt to preserve the tie. After Rockford missed a last-second field goal attempt, the game went to overtime. Saline had the ball first. MJ Griffin rushed for a touchdown and Turner made his kick, giving Saline a 13-6 lead. The Rams scored a touchdown on the halfback pass to make it 13-12. The Rams elected to go for two points from 1 ½ yards out. The Hornets got a good push and thwarted the Rams.
“That game last week encapsulates our season. We had every reason to lose when things didn’t go our way, but we found ways to win,” Palka said.
In Clarkston, the Hornets are facing another first-class football program with a winning tradition. The Wolves have won three state championships since 2013. This is their fifth trip to the semifinals since 2009.
“Their similar to Rockford in that they are a really disciplined team that’s playing great defense,” Palka said. “They’ve got a little more size on the offensive line and defensive line than Rockford. They’re a little more explosive in their passing game, with a little more balanced offense.”
Palka said it will be important to prevent Clarkston from putting together lengthy, time-consuming drives.
“We need to get off the field. They have a tendency to put together long drives that eat the clock. They’ve got a good running QB (Jake Jensen) and a good RB (Jake Billette) that can get behind defenses,” Palka said. “And obviously, we want to avoid the big play.”
Billette will be running behind Rocco Spindler, a two-way lineman and four-star recruit who’s the son of former Detroit Lion, Mark Spindler.
Defensively, they don’t give up much.
Coach Palka said he wanted to see a better rushing attack this week – which would be a tough task against Clarkston if leading rusher Brendan Munday was 100 percent. Munday missed the second half on last week’s game against Rockford. If Munday isn’t healthy, the Hornets will count on Hayden Scott and Joel Klomega. You could also see more MJ Griffin on offense, and perhaps Alex Morrison, who showed flashes when used a couple times at running back earlier this season.
When the Hornets go to the air, QB Andrew Arbaugh’s favorite target has been TE Brendan Murphy. Murphy had three TD catches two weeks ago. Last week, he nearly had another. Arbaugh has also had success throwing to Munday, Kolton Malinczak and Griffin.
Palka said the Hornets quickly regained their focus after the euphoria of last week’s victory.
“We had another really good week of practice. We fought the elements and the kids did a good job executing,” Palka said. “The focus has been good. That’s a good sign for us.”