Saline built a big lead with its most powerful air attack of the season and then fended off a late challenge in a 31-26 victory over Bedford at Hornet Stadium Friday.
The win lifted Saline to 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the SEC Red as Bedford fell to 1-3 and 0-1 in the SEC Red.
Andrew Arbaugh, out for two games with internal bleeding after taking a hard hit in week one, returned to the lineup to complete 6 of 11 passes for 222 yards and four touchdowns. Three of those touchdown passes were caught by Brendan Murphy, who made four catches for 153 yards. Kolton Malinczak caught two passes for 69 yards and a touchdown. Brendan Munday rushed 19 times for 85 yards. JT Turner went 4-for-4 on extra point kicks and booted a 37-yard field goal.
Even though it’s often played early in the season, the Saline-Bedford contest that usually the SEC championship. With a big crowd in the bleachers on both sides of the field it had the feel of a rivalry game.
Bedford struck first. Saline scored the next 28 points. The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter and Saline led 31-12, before the Kicking Mules mounted a comeback and scored touchdowns. They got the ball back late in the fourth, but the Hornet defense regained their footing and held the Mules in check.
Saline coach Joe Palka said it was a huge win.
“All you’ve got to do is win by one. We were definitely on the ropes there for a little bit in the fourth quarter. For us to rise up and make that play in the end on fourth down, it was just great to see us again overcome some form of adversity,” Palka said. “All the momentum was on their side. So, to come out of here with a win against a great program, really, our arch rival, and give us a leg up in the SEC, I can’t think of a bigger win. It was fantastic.”
The Hornets knew what was coming when the Kicking Mules lined up for the first play from scrimmage. Lots of fake hand offs and lots of runs up the middle. QB Austin Malabanan ran for 21 yards. Christian Brown rand a couple times for 12 yards. And then while half the defense was focused on the wrong Mule, Anthony Pisanti broke free for a 47-yard touchdown. MJ Griffin blocked the extra point kick. Bedford led 6-0.
It didn’t faze the Hornets. Trevor Arico returned the ball to the Saline 29. The first drive didn’t start well with three rushes going for nine yards. Palka, who didn’t want to let Bedford start managing the clock with a lead, elected to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Saline 37. Munday rushed for four yards to move the chains. Tow plays later, Arbaugh found Murphy over the middle. He caught the ball and ran into the end zone for a 60-yard TD reception. JT Turner’s kick made it 7-0.
As an underclassman, Murphy watched Saline grad Bryce Wolma score many touchdowns this way.
“We faked the run to the outside and their two safeties split even and we just slip right up the middle. I watched Bryce do it many times, but I like to put my twist on it,” Murphy said. “It’s a great play. I love running that.”
Up 7-6, the Hornet defense returned to the field after Turner kick sailed into the end zone for a touch back. The Kicking Mules moved the chains once. But Saline became accustomed to the Bedford fakes. On third and six, Monty Green tackled Brown after a three-yard gain. Bedford, unlike Saline, chose to punt the ball away. Saline took over at its 41. On first down, MJ Griffin rushed for 15 yards. Two plays later, Munday rumbled for a 22-yard gain. Two plays later, Arbaugh passed to Murphy for another 19-yard pick up. The drive ran into trouble after a couple Saline penalties. A Munday touchdown was called back for holding. A false start sent them back another five years. On 4th-and-20, Palka elected to attempt a field goal. Turner kicked a line drive a few yards over the bar but straight through the uprights. Saline led 10-6 with 34 seconds to play in the quarter.
On the third play of the second quarter, Malabanan’s pass to his left was picked off by Griffin.
Saline had the ball at its 45. After an incomplete pass to Joel Klomega, Palka called time out. On the next play, Arbaugh went to his left and hit speedy Kolton Malinczak in stride. He sprinted another 35 yards untouched for a 55-yard touchdown. Turner’s kick gave Saline a 17-6 lead.
Bedford’s next drive started at its 20 and made it’s way as far as the Bedford 42. On 3rd-and-4 from the Bedford 42, Green dropped Pisanti for a two-yard loss. Bedford punted. Malinczak caught the ball at his 34 and returned it midfield.
On first down, Arbaugh passed to Murphy. He went 50 yards for the touchdown.
Saline led 24-6 with 7 minutes to play in the half.
The Mules moved the chains three times on their next drive. It took nearly six minutes off the clock to get to midfield. A false start penalty helped slow the Mules. On 3rd-and-8, Zach Sabin dropped Malabanan for a one-yard loss. On 4th-and-9, Bedford punted.
Saline got the ball at its 26. The Hornets ran down the clock and took a 24-6 lead into the dressing room.
Before the game, Palka stressed the importance of converting possessions into points, because Bedford’s running game allowed them to control the clock. Saline did what it wanted, with three touchdowns and a field in four possessions in the first half (not including the late second half possession). But things didn’t go as well to start the third. Griffin returned the opening kickoff to the 37 – but it was taken back to the 15 on a holding penalty. Then the Hornets were penalized for a false start. A couple plays later, Saline punted from its 19. Brendan Cropsey’s 40-yard punt was fielded at the Mules’ 41. This time, the Mules were able to work with their relatively short field. They went 51 yards in 11 plays, including, to their credit, an important 4th-and-4 conversion on the ground by Brown. It was Brown who rushed in on 3rd-and-goal from the two. Bedford attempted the two-point conversion, but a pass to the corner of the end zone was incomplete.
Trevor Arico gave Saline great field position with a 54-yard kick-off return to the Bedford 43. On first down, Arbaught through to Malinczak for a 14-yard gain over the middle. On third-and-5 from the Bedford 24, Arbaugh threw over the middle to Murphy at the goal line. The ball bounced off the outstretched hands of Murphy. Saline went right back to Murphy. This time Arbaught slung a quick shot pass to him. Murphy caught the ball and then trucked a defender in front of a Hornet student section that was sent into a frenzy. He continued on and managed to step out of the tackle right before the goal line.
This touchdown pass went for 24 yards.
“We just had that third down play that was right out of my reach and I was a little salty. But I was happy they decided to come right back to me and trusted me. It was a nice little hook route, right in the middle. I caught it and turned quick and I knew he was going to be right there, so I just tried to put him on his butt and then keep running my legs,” Murphy said.
Palka was happy with the play of his big tight end.
“If you just get it to Murp in space, he’s going to make positive things happen. That last touchdown by him is just a little designed curl play and it turns into a touchdown. He’s a big, physical body and he also showed he could run away from some guys,” Palka said.
Arbaugh, too, had put together a nice game for quarter back coming off an injury and starting just his second varsity game. He threw for four touchdowns and 22 yards.
“You’ve got to hand it to the kid,” Palka said. “He misses two weeks with injury and comes back and throws some darts when we needed it most. I’m proud of his effort.”
Saline led 31-12 with 2:54 to play.
Bedford’s next drive was cut short by a Connor Terech interception at the Bedford 40 with 1:01 to play in the quarter. Again, the Hornets were penalized for a false start. A couple plays later, in the fourth quarter, Cropsey punted the ball away into the Bedford end zone.
The Mules put together a 6:12 drive that went 80-yards. Along the way, Malabanan converted a 4th-and-1 from the Bedford 29 with a five-yard run. Brown capped the drive with a one-yard run into the end zone. The extra point kick was good and Saline was up 31-19 with 5:37 to play.
The Mules went right back on the attack when they recovered a bunt kick. They took over at the Saline 49. Seven plays later, Brown rushed 12 yards for another Bedford touchdown. With 3:32 to play, Saline led 31-26.
“Our defense was on the field the whole drive and then all of the sudden, boom, we’re on the field again. It’s a tough situation,” Palka said.
This time the Hornets recovered the bunt kick. They had the ball at the Bedford 49. But the Hornets couldn’t move the football on the ground. On 4th-and-3, with 1:58 to play, Cropsey’s punt was field at the Bedford 8, where the received fumbled and then fell on the loose ball.
The Mules were able to move the ball out to the 23 for one first down.
But on 1st-and-10, Johan Ashby sacked Malabanan for a five-yard loss. The Mules, who’d only completed two passes all game long, attempted three straight passes – and they all failed.
Saline got the ball back and ran out the clock.
“At the end of the day we had enough points to make it last. We had a great punt down here. Our defense played, on some tired legs, and made a stop when they needed to at the end,” Palka said.
Saline hosts Skyline next week
Mancino’s Pizza and Grinders 3 Stars
- Brendan Murphy – Murphy made four catches for 153 yards and three touchdowns. An all-state defenseman in hockey, Murphy plays physical and then surprises with good speed and good hands.
- Andrew Arbaugh – Arbaugh was hit hard early in the game in week one (and stayed in the game) and suffered internal bleeding. After sitting out two weeks he returned to the lineup and threw four touchdown passes.
- Alex Morrison – Led a defense that terrific outside of the first two minutes and last seven minutes. Morrison made 12.5 tackles.
AROUND THE SEC
Saline 31 Bedford 26
Monroe 39 Skyline 7
Pioneer 48 Huron 6
Saline 1-0 3-1
Monroe 1-0 3-1
Pioneer 1-0 3-1
Skyline 0-1 2-2
Bedford 0-1 1-3
Huron 0-1 0-4