East Kentwood at Saline
What: District Championship Game
When: 1 p.m., Saturday
Where: Hornet Stadium
AP Rankings: East Kentwood 4, Saline 5
Records: East Kentwood 9-1, Saline 9-1
Past Meetings: Never
Last Week: East Kentwood defeated Brighton 31-28, Saline defeated Kalamazoo Central 26-7
Playoff history: East Kentwood 11-12, Saline 16-14.
Deepest playoff run: East Kentwood: 2002, state championship game loss. Saline: 2014, state championship game loss.
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Saline faces its biggest challenge since opening night when it hosts East Kentwood in the MHSAA District Championship football game at Hornet Stadium Saturday afternoon. Both the Hornets and Falcons are 9-1. East Kentwood comes in ranked fourth in the final Associated Press Poll – one spot ahead of the Hornets.
The winner will host Rockford (7-4) in the regional championship game next week – for a chance to go to the final four.
Saline comes into the contest on the heels of last week’s 26-7 victory over Kalamazoo Central. Saline’s offense was very good early – but struggled at times as the game went on. The Hornet defense was dominant.
“Defensively, we may be as good as anyone in the state. We might not have the size you’d think we need to match up against some teams. But we have a very good D-Line, very good linebackers, and MJ Griffin can makes us right in the secondary,” Palka said.
Saline’s defense didn’t give up any points last week.
The Hornets need their defense to come through again.
Palka said East Kentwood is a physically impressive team.
“We haven’t face a team physically imposing like this since week one. They’ve got a big offensive line. A very big defensive line. They’ve got great athletes. They don’t do anything really complex, but they do what they do well,” Palka said.
East Kentwood has a big play offense that scores early and often. They’ve topped 45 points six times this year. They’ve topped 30 points in every game but one – a 28-17 victory over Rockford. Palka said.
“It sounds cliché, but we’ve got to avoid the big plays. They’re not a team that grinds you down and possesses the ball. They’ve got the athletes who make big plays,” Palka said. “We’ve got to contain them and get to the football the way we have all year long.”
Palka said the Hornets have to pay special attention to running back Kionte Blakely and receiver Stephan Bracey. Blakely came into last week’s game with 26 TDs and rushed 18 times for 184 yards and TDs of 65 and 60 yards. Bracey came into the game with 10 TD passes and caught an 84-yard TD pass from QB Kyle Dent. Dent also threw three interceptions last week.
Palka doesn’t want to get involved in a shootout with East Kentwood, but he thinks his offense can do enough damage to win the football game.
“We have to stay patient. They play a cover four – which looks a lot like man-to-man to laymen. We might want break (TE Brendan Murphy) Murph loose a bit. We’re going to need to put the balls in the hands of our playmakers, keep them off balance and score points when we get opportunities,” Palka said.
Expect a steady diet of Brendan Munday, who went over 1,000 yards for the season last week. Munday has rushed 170 times for 1,034 yards and 13 TDs. Andrew Arbaugh (16-for-20, 177 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT last week) will put the ball in the hands MJ Griffin (23 rushes, 328 yards, 4 TDs, 39 catches, 292 yards 1 TD) and Brendan Murphy (36 catches, 502 yards, 7 TDs). Hayden Scott (5 TDs) and Joel Klomega (4 TDs) also give the Hornets other options in the running game).
The Hornets are looking for their first district championship since 2016. East Kentwood last won the district trophy in 2014.