It took less than 90 seconds to turn Friday’s SEC showdown into a mow-down.
Saline (3-0 overall, 1-0 SEC) defeated Skyline (2-1 overall, 0-1 SEC) 41-6.
Saline recovered a fumble, scored a touchdown, picked off a pass and scored another touchdown in just 86 seconds to take 17-0 lead and clip the Eagles’ wings while taking just 86 seconds off the clock.
It was a much-ballyhooed game – drawing “game of the week” coverage from the Ann Arbor News and even Mick McCabe from the Free Press. But in the end, Saline did its thing.
“We knew we had to weather the storm, just keep playing our game and worry about us and I thought we did that,” Saline head coach Joe Palka said. “We’ve had a little bit of adversity every week and we just keep responding. I couldn’t be prouder of our guys. We showed we were a full program today. I’m glad we were able to do that.”
While everyone else was talking up the game, the Hornets were conducting business as usual.
“Everybody talks about big games. Our guys have been in a lot of big games. The truth of the matter is, if you just do what you’re coach to do you’re going to be fine. Our kids are believing in that right now,” Palka said.
Saline’s defense was up to the task from the opening kick off, forcing a three-and-out on the first possession of the game with Joey Salowich’s tackle on third down. The Hornets took over at their 35. Saline moved over midfield when a late-hit on QB Josh Jackson was penalized. After a 12 yard run by Jackson, the Saline QB found Jeb Palka along the Saline sideline for a first down at the Skyline 10. Another late hit move the chains the four yard line but the Eagles pushed back.
Will Breen’s 15-yard field goal gave Saline a 3-0 lead 3:21 into the game.
Skyline responded with their best drive of the first quarter. A 47-yard pass to Hunter Rison gave the Eagles the ball at the Saline 35. But the drive stalled and when Sean O’Keefe tripped up Charles Jones from behind, the Eagles attempted a long-field goal that was blocked by Joey Salowich.
The Hornets took over at their 40. Jackson passed to Palka to get Saline over midfield. After runs Jackson and Zach Schwartzenberger, Saline had a first down at the 19. Again, Skyline pushed back and again the Hornets attempted a field goal. This time, Breen’s attempt was wide.
The two teams traded drives that invaded each other’s territory but couldn’t find the end zone. Saline’s drive advanced to the Skyline 16 before a bad snap forced the Hornets back to their 34. Breen punted. Saline had just three points to show for three appearances in the red zone.
Skyline took over at their 20 and on the next play, a Saline tackler jarred the ball loose. Linebacker Cal Livesay picked up the ball. Saline took over at the 21.
On first down, Jackson threw to Zach Schwartzenberger along the Saline sideline. Schwartzenberger turned around to catch and then turned and sprinted toward the end zone, diving in over the goal line. Ben Stankovic’s extra point kick gave Saline a 10-0 lead 5:39 into the second quarter.
CJ Gildersleeve tacked the kickoff returner at the 15. On first down, John Raupp and Sean O’Keefe nearly sacked the new QB, Darryn Davis. On second down, a long pass was nearly intercepted by Zachary Owings. On third down, Davis tried the same play.
“The play before they had run the same play and I didn’t jump it because I was afraid. They ran it again and I was aggressive and picked it off,” Owings said.
It was the first of two interceptions for Owings, who also made several big stops.
“Zach has really stepped up and played well for us. He just keeps getting better. I thought we shut down their passing attack and Zach was a big part of that,” Palka said.
Saline took over at the Skyline 39. Jackson passed to Palka for 13 yards. On 3rd-and-10, he found Palka again along the sideline for 17 yards.
On the next play Jackson followed blockers Alex Bromley and Tyler Schrzan into the end zone for a nine-yard rushing TD. After Stankovic’s kick, Saline led 17-0. The Hornets took the lead into the dressing room at halftime.
Skyline opened the second half by kicking the ball into the end zone. Saline’s first possession of the half was the Connor Hibbard show.
He rushed twice for a Saline first down. A penalty helped move the Hornets over midfield to the 38. A couple players later, on 2nd-12-30, Hibbard broke free and outran everyone to the end zone. It was the third straight game with a touchdown for the pint-sized speedster. Stankovic’s kick made it 24-0. The drive took 2:25 – long by Saline standards.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Hornets forced another three-and-out. Saline got the ball back and couldn’t move it. The Hornets punted. From their own 21.
The Eagles took over at their 25 and used quick, short passes to move the ball over mid-field. Skyline had a first down at the Saline 39 and then gained another three yards. After two incomplete passes, Skyline went for it on fourth. A pass over the middle fell incomplete as Owings timed his hit with the ball’s arrival.
The Hornets took over at their 36. On 3rd-and-8, Jackson picked up 14 yards on the ground. On the next play, Hibbard ran 36 yards for a first down at the 12.
Two plays later Schwartzenberger got a great block from Brandon Brown and scored on a six yard rush.
A 43-yard passing play to Rison followed by a 20-yard reception gave the Eagles a first down at the Saline 10. A third-down end zone try was broken up by Alec Richards. On fourth down, Owings picked off a pass in the end zone.
Owings said he and his partners in the secondary looked forward to the challenge of defending Hunter Rison and the Skyline air game.
“Me and Joey worked on limiting the big plays. We knew (Rison) was going to make a couple big plays and he did in the first quarter. We did a hell of a job,” Owings said.
Saline started the third quarter with Schwartzenberger throwing a short pass to Bryce Wolma, who went 71 yards for the touchdown. Later in the fourth, Robbie Felton picked off a Skyline pass. A couple plays later, Ethan Deland ran a sweep for a 15-yard touchdown. Saline led 45-0. Skyline added a late touchdown. The extra-point kick was blocked by Felton.
While the final score was lopsided, it was a hard-fought game.
“It was a big win for our program,” Owings said. “The score doesn’t show how physical it was. Until the 2s came in, they were battling and we were battling. It was a great win.”
Nobody took more hits than Saline QB Josh Jackson. Jackson’s rushing stats (18 rushes, 40 yards, 1 TD) were depressed by a couple of sacks on high snaps. But in the first half, as Saline wore down the Skyline defense, Jackson was the Saline rushing game.
Unlike most QBs, Jackson doesn’t slide or duck out of bounds to avoid tackles. After all, the 6-2, 200 pound QB is delivering as much pain as he’s taking. Skyline made sure to get shots in on Jackson in the first half – some of which were obviously late.
“It doesn’t phase me. But I’ve played varsity since my freshman year. It’s the same thing. They are big guys and a bit stronger. You just have to take it keep going,” Jackson said, adding that the Saline coaching staff is trying to get him to work on sliding and avoiding all the contact. “They’re getting on me to learn how to do that, but I’m not that kind of player.”
Coach Palka agreed.
“We’re working on him with that. He’s such a tough kid and doesn’t want to go down. If there was any question about our toughness tonight I think we really answered that, across the board, led by Josh,” Palka said.
Saline hit Skyline just as hard – and took a couple of flags in the process. Owings said the defense was determined to be the most physical team on the field.
“We knew a lot of their big time players were two-way starters and we knew we would take advantage of that. That’s our offense plays fast and our defense plays physical as possible. We wore them down,” Owings said.
Saline visits Bedford next week.
A&W Lawn Service Saline Football Three Stars
- Josh Jackson – Didn’t put up the big numbers the way he did in game one, but he was the heart of the offense today. When Saline really needed the yards, Jackson found a way to get it done.
- Zachary Owings – Has been a force in the secondary all year, delivering hard hits and breaking up passes. He had two interceptions Friday. The first set up a back-breaking touchdown. The second was in the end zone.
- Zach Schwartzenberger - Threw a touchdown pass. Caught a touchdown pass. Ran for a touchdown. Schwartzenberger’s versatility is emerging as a valuable weapon in the Hornet attack.
Play of the Game
Zachary Owings Interception was a great demonstration of athleticism and anticipation, but it was a crucial turnover at a critical part of the football game.
Saline (3-0) 45 Skyline (2-1) 6
Pioneer (3-0) 34 Bedford (0-3) 28
Monroe 41 (2-1) Huron (0-3) 16
Saline @ Bedford
Skyline @ Monroe
Pioneer @ Huron