The SEC Red champion Saline Hornets capped another successful regular season by defeating Grand Blanc, 45-27. Saline finished the season with an 8-1 record for the second straight year.
Coach Joe Palka said he was proud of his team’s season.
“I told them in the locker room, how many guys really felt when the Chippewa Valley game was over that we’d run the table, win eight games, win the championship and be in the position we’re in,” Palka said. “I think they all believed it, but it takes a lot of work to get here. And this team has its own legacy.”
Grand Blanc was a tougher matchup than they were a year ago. The Bobcats’ offense was more dynamic and less predictable than they were in last year’s 31-6 loss. But the Grand Blanc defense couldn’t contain the Saline offense and the Hornets pulled away in the second half.
Cade Gilless rushed for three touchdowns to lead the Hornets. QB Larry Robinson threw touchdown passes to Kolton Malinczak and Chance Bezeau. Robinson also rushed for a touchdown. Kicker Brendan Cropsey kicked a field goal, was six-for-six on extra points and recovered his own onside kick to set up the touchdown that put the game away.
“Aside from the one turnover, which was a tipped ball, I think we played pretty darned well. We didn’t help the defense putting them in poor field position all first half. But they played great, bailed us out and did great in the second half,” Palka said. “It’s all about responding. Our kick off team responded with a much better second half, and that’s what you always look for.”
Saline’s defense got the stop on the Bobcats’ first possession after a great kick off return thanks to a third-down stop by Gino Geherin. The Hornets took over after the three-and-out at their own 20. The long drive made it all the way down to the two-yard line before it stalled out. On fourth down, Cropsey kicked a 29-yard field goal giving Saline the 3-0 lead with 3:29 to play. The Bobcats started their next drive with good field possession again and this time they scored through the air. Grand Blanc led 7-3.
Saline bounced right back with a scoring drive. Robinson found Malinczak wide open in the end zone and Malinczak leaped to bring the ball in. Saline led 10-7.
It looked like it might-be a see-saw affair when Grand Blanc used a long halfback pass to score a touchdown. Saline blocked the extra point attempt. The Bobcats led 13-10 with 2:26 to play in the half.
But the Hornets wasted no time coming back, quickly moving up the field. Robinson passed to Luke Darmos, who fought his way down to the two. From there, Gilless scored the first of his three touchdowns. Saline led 17-13 at halftime.
The Bobcats kicked off to Saline to start the second half. Again the Hornets quickly moved up the field. Runs by Robinson and Gilless and passes to Malinczak and Kyle Greenwood moved the Hornets into the red zone. Gilless rushed for a 15-yard touchdown giving Saline a 24-13 lead just 2:16 into the half.
But again, Grand Blanc answered. This the Bobcats scored with a short pass and lots of yards after the catch. Saline led 24-20.
The Hornets responded with another scoring drive on a short field. Gilless ran in from one yard out. Saline led 31-20.
Saline put an end to the back-and-forth contest when Brendan Cropsey recovered his own side kick. Cropsey booted a bouncing kick and then caught up to it and caught it. The Hornets took advantage of their great field position. Robinson broke loose for a long run up the middle before he was dragged down at the six. But Robinson scored on the next play - a six-yard sweep. Saline led 38-20 with 4:43 to play.
Grand Blanc managed to score another touchdown to make it 38-27. But Saline responded with another touchdown. Robinson threw a four-yard pass to Chance Bezeau.
Any dreams of a comeback were dashed by Noah Nelson’s interception, which ended the Bobcats’ next possession.