The Saline football team kicks off what it hopes will be a long post-season at 7 p.m., Friday at Hornet Stadium. Saline (8-0) hosts Monroe (5-4).
When Saline defeated Monroe 28-0 Oct. 9 to clinch the SEC Red championship, it also appeared the Trojans’ playoff hopes were dashed. But coach Eric Redmond (35-23) and his team rallied to beat Adrian, 46-20, and Dearborn Fordson, 28-14, to finish with a 5-4 record and squeak into the post-season tournament.
For the Hornets, it’s seems like forever ago since they last played. Coach Joe Palka’s (39-6) Hornets haven’t played since they beat Ypsilanti, 48-18, on Oct. 16.
Saline owns a 5-3 record against Monroe and the Trojans haven’t defeated Saline since 2011, the year before the Palka era began. The two teams have met once in the playoffs, with Saline defeating Monroe 28-22 last year in one of the toughest games of the year.
Saline didn’t have much difficultly beating Monroe 28-0 this season. Monroe’s running game couldn’t generate touchdowns, but it did move the chains enough (12 first downs) to keep Saline’s explosive offense off the field for much of the game. Monroe rushed 57 times for 235 yards. Conversely, Saline ran just 34 plays, passing and rushing, and it gained 346 yards.`
Josh Jackson threw touchdown passes to Bryce Wolma, Jeb Palka and Zach Schwartzenberger and Stevie Kise returned a punt return 68 yards for a touchdown to account for Saline’s scoring. The Hornets’ 28 points were a season low.
Unless the Trojans drastically stray from their normal playbook, don’t expect much passing from QB Travis Kellems. Leading rusher Carson Clark (153 carries, 1317 yards, 13 TDs) has more carries than all of the Hornet running backs combined. In fact, Saline’s leading rusher Connor Hibbard (54 carries, 515 yards, 9 TDs) would rank fifth on Monroe in both carries and yards (but second in touchdowns).
The Hornets obviously make up for this in the air, where Josh Jackson (109/163, 1382 yards, 18 TDs) completed four times as many passes for more than four times as many yards and touchdowns as his counterpart Travis Kellems (25/52 408 yards, 4 TDs), whose season stat line looks like a good game for Jackson. And Jeb Palka (55 catches, 616 yards, 8 TDs) is among four Hornets with at least twice as many catches as leading Monroe receiver Craig Couturier (9 catches, 194 yards, 3 TDs).
The winner of this game plays the winner of the Pioneer-Belleville game for the district championship.