What: Detroit Cass Tech (11-0) at Saline (11-0)
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Hornet Stadium
What’s at Stake: Winner takes the regional trophy and moves on to the semifinal against Utica Eisenhower (11-0) or Southfield (8-3).
Live Stream: It’s on FSDGO. Click here. It’s free if you subscribe to a cable/satellite package with Fox Sports Detroit, although some Comcast customers have reported issues.
History: These two teams have met twice. In 2012, the first year of the Palka era, Saline turned a lot of heads in a 21-14 loss to Cass Tech in the regional final. In 2014, Saline upset Detroit Cass Tech, 30-15, in the semifinal and earned a trip to Ford Field.
Before we go any further, let’s remember a few a few plays from that game.
On paper, if you’re comparing NCAA prospects, Saline probably has no business winning Friday’s game. But games aren’t played on paper. Particularly with Palka’s Hornets.
Still, Palka has a lot of respect for all that talent on the other team.
“You could almost take a snapshot of Cass Tech and show it year after year. Once again, they’re very big, very fast and very athletic,” Palka said. “You look at their personnel and you don’t see any weaknesses.”
QB Rodney Hall is a dual threat.
“He’s a big playmaker who makes people miss when he runs. When he throws, he gets the ball our really quick,” Palka said.
His favorite target is Donovan Peoples-Jones, a 6’2, 175-pound WR who might be the most sought after recruit in Michigan.
The team also has several dangerous running backs. Last week’s 24-7 win over Dearborn was the first time this year Cass Tech scored less than 30 points.
On defense, their defensive line features several “6’3, 280-pound guys,” Palka said.
“Their linebackers are very aggressive. Their defense is very aggressive,” Palka said.
The Technicians have five shutouts. They haven’t given up more than 20 points since week one against Oak Park.
Palka said the Hornets are going to have to try to keep Cass Tech and wear them down.
“Patience is the key. They’re going to come out like a house on fire. We have to contain them and keep scoring down. The longer we hang around, the better our chance,” Palka said.
On defense, the Hornets need to tackle in space.
“We need to get the offense in 3rd-and-long situations and work the pressure,” Palka said. “I think we need to make their D-line run and get them tired.”
On offense, the Hornets are going up against a big defense.
“When we have the ball, they’re going to have a size advantage and they can run. So we need to use different formations and tempos and keep them off balance,” Palka said.
Cass Tech plays a few players on offense and defense and the Hornets are well conditioned.
Palka said his team has good reasons for confidence.
“We’ve got guys on our team who played against them two years ago. We played them in 7-on-7’s a year ago and we weren’t intimidated,” Palka said. “This team has been in every situation this year. We’ve had games where we were down early and down late. Our guys don’t panic.”
Palka said if the Hornets can keep the game close, they’ll have something up their sleeve that will give them a chance to win late.
If there’s something up Palka’s sleeve, there’s a good chance it involves running back Connor Hibbard, who is criminally underrated in Michigan high school football circles. Hibbard didn’t get any love in Mlive’s Michigan High School Football Player of the Year feature. Nor did he receive any mention in the Mr. Football features.
Check out this stat line: 147 attempts, 1,355 yards, 9.2 yards/carry, 24 touchdowns.
Stats don’t even begin to tell the story. You have to watch it in person to truly appreciate it.
Friday’s game is your last chance to see Hibbard and Hornets at Hornet Stadium. If they win, they’re headed for a neutral site game. If they lose, they’re stellar season is over.
Send them off with a cheer.