Saline defeated Monroe, 28-6, in a winner-take-all SEC Red showdown at Hornet Stadium. The teams entered Friday’s game with identical records: 4-0 in the SEC Red and 6-1 overall.
Something had to give and it wasn’t about to be Saline’s defense.
The Hornet defense gave up 279 yards – most of that on the ground. But they intercepted a pass and recovered three fumbles and gave up a single scoring play – a 37-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
It was Saline’s fifth straight SEC Red championship.
Coach Joe Palka said it was a sweet victory for a team that has faced questions all year.
“It’s a huge win for these kids, because at the beginning of the year, everyone told them they weren’t good enough. Obviously it’s a big win tonight,” Palka said.
The Hornets wanted a strong start. The Hornets kicked off and Monroe started at its own four yard line after Monty Green made the tackle. Monroe made it out to midfield but a holding penalty on 3rd-and-7 ended their drive. They punted from their 48 with 6:16 to play in the quarter.
Saline took over at its 13. On first down, Andrew Arbaugh (10-15, 124 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs) passed to Brendan Munday (11 carries, 53 yards 1 TD, 2 catches, 46 yards, 1 TD) for a 22-yard pickup. Munday then picked up nine yards on first down, and moved the chains two plays later with a five-yard run. Arbaugh picked up another first down with pass to Brendan Murphy (3 catches, 56 yards, 1 TD). Saline picked up nine more yards with a pass to MJ Griffin (3 rushes, 72 yards, 3 catches 4 yards). Munday followed with two tough eight-yard runs – the second of which was good for a touchdown.
After JT Turner’s kick, Saline led 7-0.
The Hornet defense sent the Trojans backwards on their next possession. On first down, Brad Wisniewski dropped QB Maleik Linton for a seven yard loss. On second down, Jonah Ashby dropped Linton for another two-yard loss. Jared Banks picked up 12 yards on third down – but Trojans had to punt. Saline took over at its 38. But two plays later, Anthony Harris picked off a pass. He returned it all the way to the Saline 10, where Griffin finally stopped him.
On first down, Linton rank for six yards. On second down, Wisnieswki (8 tackles, 2.5 TFL) and Alex Morrison (14.5 tackles, 3 TFL) dropped Linton for a seven-yard loss. A third down pass fell incomplete. On the last play of the quarter, Monroe attempted a field goal. Saline got great penetration and the kick was no good.
The defense withstood an early test.
“That stop in the red zone was unbelievable,” Palka said. “When you’re making plays with your backs to the end zone like that, that’s a heck of a job. Hats off to coach Wilson and the defense tonight.”
On the next play, MJ Griffin ran 69 yards down the Saline sideline before he was tackled at the Monroe 11. Three plays later, Joel Klomega (10 rushes, 62 yards, 1 TD) rushed in for six points. Turner’s kick made it 14-0.
Saline’s defense continued its stellar play. Monroe started its next drive at its 42. Banks rushed for nine yards on first down to get over midfield. Two plays later, Banks picked up another 18 yards. After a four-yard run by Linton, Monroe had the ball at the Saline 25. Bu at the t on 2nd-and-6, Monty Green knocked the ball from Linton’s hands. Sabin recovered at the Saline 22.
Saline’s offense struggled on its next possession. On 3rd-and-18, Arbaugh’s pass was intercepted at the Saline 44. Two plays later, Jalen Johnson ran 37 yards for a touchdown. The extra-point attempt was no good – as Saline once again got great penetration. Saline led 14-6 midway through the second quarter.
Murphy returned a short kickoff 15 yards to the Saline 45. Arbaugh converted a 3rd-and-7 with a seven-yard pass to Murphy. A holding penalty set the Hornets back. But on 1st-and-15, Kolton Malinczak made a beautiful, diving, over-the-shoulders catch for a 21-yard gain to the Monroe 29.
On the next play, Arbaugh lofted a pass over the middle to Murphy in triple-coverage. It was a perfectly thrown-ball and Murphy and his defender went up for it. Both guys had their hands on the ball. The continued battling as Murphy pushed forward to into the end zone. Both fell to the ground, battling for sole possession. Murphy eventually rolled over and ripped the ball from the Monroe player’s arms. The referee signaled for the touchdown.
Saline went up 21-6 after the Turner kick, sucking the wind out of Monroe’s sails.
“Let’s be honest, players make plays. Murp was triple covered. That was a pivotal point in the game. To come up with the touchdown at the time, that’s just a ‘man’s play,’” Murphy said. “Give the credit to the kids because they’re the ones who made the plays. Our gamebreakers and game changers came up big again.”
Monroe got the ball with 4:47 to play, starting at their 22. With a steady diet of runs by Banks, Linton and Johnson, Monroe pushed into Saline territory. The Trojans had a first down at the Saline 16 with a minute to play. But on first down, Morrison and Green (6 tackles, 1 INT) brought down Banks after a short gain. On second down, Jonah Ashby (3 tackes, 1.5 TFL) stopped Banks for no gain. On third down, Wisniewski stopped Linton after a one-yard gain. Somehow, the Trojans let the half expire without getting another play off and their 65-yard drive went for naught.
Saline ran to the dressing room with a 21-6 lead.
The third quarter began with Monroe kicking off to Saline. But again, Arbaugh was intercepted by Anthony Harris. The Trojan offense went to work with another short field, this time starting at the Saline 45. Led by Banks, the Trojans pushed down to the Saline 13, where they had a first down.
Again, Wisniewski came up big on first down, dropping Banks for a two-yard loss. On second down, Sabin dropped Johnson for a four-yard loss. The Trojans picked up nine yards on 3rd-and-16. On fourth down, Green and Adonis Gammo knocked the ball out of Linton’s hands. Wisniewski picked up the loose ball at the Saline 17.
The Hornets didn’t get very far. After a first-down run by Klomega, they went backwards and Brendan Cropsey’s 40-yard punt was downed at the Monroe 43. Monroe pushed into Saline territory, but an illegal block set the Torjans back. On 4th-and-16, a pass fell incomplete and Saline took over at the 50. Klomega had runs of 11 and 14 yards to move Saline to the 25. Two plays later, Arbaugh slung a pass to Munday along the Saline sideline. He raced in for a 24-yard touchdown. Saline led 28-6 with 7:48 to play.
Monroe’s next drive pushed as far as the Saline nine before it Adonis Gammo picked up a fumble for the Hornets.
Macino’s Pizza 3 Stars
- Brad Wisniewski – The entire D-line did yeoman’s work against a big Trojan O-Line and 3 talented runners. Wisniewski’s speed and strength were crucial to their success. He was in on nine tackles and had 2.5 tackles for a loss. It seemed like the bigger the moment, the more likely it was that Wisniewski was in on the play.
- Alex Morrison – Was all over the place, plugging in gaps and getting to the ball. He made 14.5 tackles to lead the defense and had 3 tackles for a loss.
- Brendan Murphy – Brendan Munday and Joel Klomega had good days at running back, but it’s hard to overlook the touchdown Murphy scored. Murphy continues to make key plays at crucial times – and they’re often plays that fire up the team.