The Monroe Trojans were the only thing standing between the Saline Hornets and their goal: Sole possession of the SEC Red. Friday night was a tough night to be a Monroe Trojan.
Saline dominated Monroe in every facet of the game, winning the game 56-8.
The Hornets improved to 7-0 overall and 5-0 in the SEC Red – giving the Hornets the SEC Red Championship all to themselves.
It’s the third straight undefeated season and conference championship for Saline, but Hornet head coach Joe Palka is focusing on this team, this season.
“We have this legacy and it’s three straight now. But it’s like I said at the beginning of the year, this is a different team. They have their own personality. And this team didn’t have their own league championship,” Palka said. “I’m excited for our seniors and this particular team to get it.”
Following a dominant offensive line, Connor Hibbard rushed 9 times for 136 yards and three touchdowns. QB Zach Schwartzenberger completed 13-of-14 passes for 156 yards and two TDs. Bryce Wolma caught 4 passes for 81 yards and a TD. Andrew Diuble had two touchdown receptions wiped out on penalties. Schwartzenberger also connected with Emmett Turner for a touchdown. Brendan Munday and J Drew McGovern ran for touchdowns in the second half. Brandon Boyd also returned a kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown.
It was an unexpected blowout of an SEC Red rival that had played tough against Pioneer and Bedford.
“We expected a tough, close game, because Monroe is that good. But the truth of the matter is that we just put it all together in all phases today. We’ve kind of been waiting for that and it was great to see,” Palka said.
On defense, Saline set the tone on Monroe first drive. Monroe gained one first down on their first series. Saline put up a barricade there. Nathan Powers (5 tackles, 1 sack) stopped Carson Clark for no gain on first down. Sean O’Keefe stopped Clark after a three-yard gain on second down. And then O’Keefe (3.5 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss) and Konrad Dixon (2 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss) stopped QB Ryan Ernst on third down after a one-yard gain. The Trojans punted.
Saline took over at the 35. Zach Schwartzenberger passed to Diuble for a nine-yard pick up. Then Hibbard broke loose for a 22-yard run. Schwartzenberger passed to Diuble again for a short gain to the 33.
On the next play, Hibbard scampered 33 yards for a touchdown. JT Turner’s kick made it 7-0.
Monroe started its next drive at the 35. Tyler Plocki (3 tackles) stopped Jovan Johnson for a one-yard gain on first. Ernest passed to Johnson for a five yard gain on second.
On third down, Sean O’Keefe forced a Clark to fumble the ball. Nathan Powers recovered and Saline took over at the Monroe 40.
Defensively, the Hornets were as impressive, limiting talented running back Carson Clark to just 14 yards on nine carries.
“He gave us all kinds of problems last year. I was real pleased with our defensive effort and our defensive line is pretty good. Our linebackers keep getting better and our defense keeps getting better in general,” Palka said. “That’s exciting to see down the stretch.”
Nothing about the Trojan attack fazed the Hornets.
“Our practices continue to get better. We’re learning the scheme. Our defensive staff is really putting this together,” Palka.
After stuttering with a couple penalties Schwartzenberger passed to Turner for a nine-yard gain. Then he passed to Wolma for 23 yards.
On the next play Hibbard rushed in from 13 yards. Turner’s kick made it 14-0.
After another Vinnie Patteri kick went into the end zone, Monroe started at their 20. Ethan Walsh and Justice Moss stopped Dan Rickle after a three-yard gain on first. On second down, Nathan Powers dropped Clark for a one-yard loss.
It was another big play in a great night for Powers.
“Nathan wrong-arms the trap so-well and really prevented the inside running game from getting started. He was a game captain tonight and he was fantastic and he’s been great all year,” Palka said.
On third down, Ernest’s pass was incomplete. Monroe punted.
Saline quickly worked its way up the field. First Hibbard scored on a long touchdown run, but the play was called back on a penalty. Then Schwartzenberger threw a screen pass to Diuble, who snaked his way into the end zone. Again, the refs called it back.
On the first play of the second quarter, Hibbard scored from nine yards out. Turner’s kick made it 21-0.
In 12:06, Hibbard and the running game had three touchdowns.
“I thought our offensive line played our best game of the year. We controlled the line of scrimmage and gave Connor all kinds of options,” Palka said.
The next Monroe drive started at the 20. On first down, CJ Gildersleeve (2 tackles, .5 tackles for a loss) tackled Rickle for a one-yard loss. A few plays later, the Trojans punted again.
Saline took over at their 46. After a pass to Wolma and a run by Diuble, Saline had a first down at the Monroe 42. Schwartzenberger hit Wolma with a perfect pass on slant over the middle. Wolma caught the pass and sped away from the defenders for a touchdown. Saline led 28-0 after Turner’s kick
Monroe’s next drive was foiled when Jeremiah Leyden’s big hit caused a dropped pass on third down. Again the Trojans punted.
Saline’s next drive featured a touchdown pass to Diuble that was called back on a holding penalty. Later in the drive, Turner missed a 39-yard field goal attempt.
But the Saline defense got the ball back right away. On first down, O’Keefe stopped Rickle for no gain. On second down, Powers dropped Clark or a one-yard loss. Clark picked up seven yards on third down before Raupp took him down. Monroe punted.
Saline took over at the Monroe 48.
A 33-yard pass to Diuble set up Schwartzenberger’s four-yard TD pass to Emmett Turner. Saline led 35-0 with 57 seconds left in the half.
After Homecoming festivities at halftime, Brandon Boyd got everyone back in the mood for football with and 84-yard kickoff return into the end zone. Saline led 42-0.
Saline added to its lead in the third quarter. Cole Daniels and the Hornets took over at the 38. Daniels passed to Nate Gresser for a 22-yard pick-up.
Three rushes later, Brendan Munday was in the end zone. Saline led 49-0 after Patteri’s extra point.
Monroe finally got on the board when Donovan Isaac ran or a 25-yard TD early in the fourth quarter. He rushed in for the two-point play.
J Drew McGovern took over at QB in the fourth after Saline recovered the onside kick. Munday and McGovern took turns rushing the football. Then McGovern broke free for a 41-yard pickup. Two plays later he scored from eight yards out. Saline’s 75-yard drive took nearly five minutes off the clock. The Hornets led 56-8.
At 7-0, Saline has games remaining at Tecumseh and then at home to Birmingham Groves. With another win, Saline almost surely clinch a home playoff game and perhaps home-field advantage for the entire district tournament.
Palka said the Hornets want to keep winning games and packing the bleachers at Hornet Stadium.
“We’ve won the SEC. We want to keep getting better. We’ve got some good teams to play these next two weeks. But aside from that we want to be playing our best football in the playoffs and we love to play at home. Every win helps us (earn home games),” Palka said.
Mancino’s Pizza and Grinders 3 Stars
- Saline Offensive Line – The Hornets rushed 25 times for 240 yards and five touchdowns. Connor Hibbard’s blockers created huge holes and Hibbard had a field day for a guy who was rested in the second quarter.
- Nathan Powers – Another big game for Powers who has become indispensable on the defensive line. The defensive line completed owned the line of scrimmage in this game.
- Zach Schwartzenberger – On a day when the Hornets ran wild, Schwartzenberger competed 13-of-14 passes for 156 yards and 2 TDs. And don’t forget the two TDs that were called back.