Coach Joe Palka wanted his Saline varsity football team to start strong on the road. They did that. Causing a turnover and scoring a touchdown before the announced 7 p.m. start time.
Saline went on to win 40-0 and improve to 3-0 in the SEC Red and 5-1 overall.
After the game, Palka was asked if Saline had played a better game, from start to finish, all year.
“No, I don’t think so. We wanted to get at them early. We had a great start. We challenged (the players) at halftime, especially offensively. We just didn’t like our demeanor. We needed to move quicker. I thought we came out in the second half and put two good drives together,” Palka said. “I thought we really did a nice job of finishing today.”
As it’s done all year, the Saline defense set up the offense with great field position. Pioneer’s first drive ended with Alex Morrison (2 tackles, 2 interceptions) intercepted a pass and returned it to the Pioneer 14. Two plays later, Brendan Munday ran for a 12-yard touchdown. After JT Turner’s kick, Saline led 7-0. It took 1:55 for the Hornets to state their intentions.
Saline kicked off and Pioneer’s next drive started at their 20. The Pioneers moved the chains once but punted from their 34. The Hornets fielded the punt at the 41. Saline’s possession, hampered by a penalty, went 3-and-out. Brendan Cropsey punted into the Pioneer end zone. Pioneer took over at its 20. On first down, Adonis Gammo and Monty Green brought down Luke Rogers for a five-yard loss. Three plays later, Pioneer punted. Saline had the ball at the Pioneer 34.
MJ Griffin ran for 14 yards and then Munday ran three times for 17 yards. On 3rd-and-goal from the Pioneer five, Munday ran in untouched for a touchdown. Saline led 14-0 with 2:42 to play in the quarter.
Saline’s defense came up with another 3-and-out. Griffin made two stops and Noah Nelson made the other, setting up a 4th-and-3. Pioneer punted and Saline took over at its 48. This time, Saline attacked through the air. Arbaugh (15-for-25, 186 yards, 2TDs, 0 INTs) opened the drive with a seven-yard pass to Griffin. Munday ran for three yards to move the chains. Arbaugh passed to Griffin, who ran over a couple of Pioneers on his way to a 19-yard gain and a first at the Pioneer 23.
On the next play, Arbaugh lofted a high pass into the end zone, where TE Brendan Murphy outjumped his man came down with the football. Saline led 21-0 with just a second remaining in the quarter.
Early in the second quarter, Saline’s defense forced another 3-and-out. On fourth down, the Pioneers punted, but the receiver couldn’t hang on. Pioneer recovered the loose ball and had the ball at the Saline 36. Luke Rogers ran a couple times for a first down. Then Logan Jacobs ran for another first down to the Saline two.
On first and goal, Jonah Ashby dropped QB Conor Easthope for a 2-yard loss. On the next play, with Monty Green rushing the passer, Morrison intercepted Easthope’s rushed pass. He then went the length of the field for a touchdown. The play was called back for a defensive block in the back.
“We were all playing well, we’d done it before (the goal line stand). We know what to do. It started with the D-Line. They got great pressure. The secondary covered their guys. They left no other option. They threw it to me, I ran it down, got a couple of good blocks,” Morrison said. “Unfortunately, Brad got the block in the back (penalty) but we all thought it was clean.”
Saline took over at its five – one of the longest fields they’ve had all year. Munday and Griffin rushed the Hornets out to the 16. Arbaugh passed to Murphy for another 12 yards. On 3rd-and-13, Arbaugh passed to Munday for a 12-yard gain at the 37. Munday converted the 4th-and-1 on the ground – adding an extra seven yards. Saline moved into Pioneer territory when Arbaugh and Murphy connected for a 21-yard gain. After a nine-yard pass to Lucas Ebert, Saline faced another 4th-and-1. Again, Munday kept the chains moving – this time with a two-yard gain to the Pioneer 20.
Saline got as far as the 15, where JT Turner Kicked a 32-yard field goal. The Hornets led 24-0 with just a minute to play in the half.
Saline recovered the kickoff and took over at the Pioneer 34. Two plays later, Arbaugh, with great protection, spotted Kolton Malinczak wide open in front of the end zone. Malinczak made the catch and stepped into the end zone. Saline led 31-0.
Saline’s first drive of the second have drove down to the Pioneer two, where the Pioneers finally stopped Munday on a fourth-down conversion.
Saline’s defense came out looking to drop the Pioneers in their own end zone. On first down, Ashby tackled Rogers for a one-yard loss. On second down, Adonis Gammo and Morrison took down McMullen in the end zone.
“We saw it. We were all fired up to go play down there,” Morrison said. “Adonis got over the block and hit him hard and we all brought him down together.”
Saline led 33-0.
Pioneer kicked off from their 20 and Hayden Scott returned the kickoff seven yards to the Pioneer 43. Arbaugh passed to Malinczak for 11 yards and to Murphy for 12 yards. On 3rd-and-11, he passed to Munday for 13 yards, to the Pioneer eight. Munday picked up five more yards on the ground before rushing three yards for his third touchdown of the night. Turner’s kick made it 40-0.
It was Saline’s first shutout of the season and first since blanking Mumford on Sept. 1, 2017.
“We had a goal line stand, turnovers at critical times. The first turnover we had really set the tone. It’s great to see those guys getting rewarded with the shutout,” Palka said. “We’re gaining a lot of confidence on defense right now and that’s really what you want heading toward the playoffs.”
Mancino’s Pizza and Grinders 3 Stars
- Alex Morrison – He converted from safety to middle-inside linebacker this year and is thriving as he learns the position. “He’s a rare Mike linebacker who’s athletic enough to make plays in the run game and get back in pass coverage, and he’s got great hands,” Palka said. If you look at the game’s three most important plays on defense, Morrison was involved in all of them.
- Brendan Munday – Rushed for 3 touchdowns. Kept the chains moving with clutch fourth-down rushes. Munday just keeps on scoring and picking up tough yards after the first contact.
- Jonah Ashby – A lot of Hornets deserve mention. MJ Griffin, Brendan Murphy, Adonis Gammo. But Ashby made 4.5 tackles and was in on two tackles for losses. He’s part of a defensive line that has been great all year long for Saline.
SEC Standings (SEC, Overall)
Saline 3-0, 5-1
Monroe 3-0, 5-1
Pioneer 1-2, 3-3
Skyline 1-2, 3-3
Bedford 1-2, 2-4
Huron 0-3, 0-6
SEC This Week
Saline 40 Pioneer 0 – Brendan Munday rushed for three touchdowns and Andrew Arbaugh threw touchdown passes to Brendan Murphy and Kolton Malinczak.
Monroe 41 Bedford 6 – Monroe’s Jalen Johnson rushed for 148 yards and one touchdown on five attempts and caught three passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns. Monroe’s dominance over a Bedford team that gave Saline trouble late in their game raises interesting questions about their game in two weeks – which, in all likelihood, will be the for the SEC championship. Click here for more.
Skyline 38 Huron 0 – Davion Pipkins threw a 54-yard TD pass to Kenyatta Ewing and then Aiden Tate picked up a fumble and returned it for a long TD to blow up what had been a close game. Click here for more.
SEC Next Week
Saline @ Huron
Pioneer @ Monroe
Bedford @ Skyline