What: Holy Names Knights (0-0) at Saline Hornets (1-0)
Where: Hornet Stadium
When: 7 p.m., Sept. 2
Twitter: Updates @TheSalinePost
What’s at stake: Hornets are looking to jump into a tough league schedule with a 2-0 record.
Raring to go after Rockford forfeited in week one, the Saline Hornets (1-0) will host the Holy Names Knights, from Windsor, Ont., Friday night at Hornet Stadium.
Facing a Canadian team has become a week two tradition for coach Joe Palka’s Hornets. So far, the Hornets are undefeated against their opponents from the Great White North, outscoring them 93-14. But the Hornets aren’t taking anyone lightly, especially given how little Saline knows about their opponents.
“They’re a bit of a mystery. They’ve played American teams before and we’ve tried tracking down video. So far all we have is Youtube highlights and video clips, so we’re a little behind on our preparation,” Palka said.
Palka said his team is looking forward to getting the season underway after last week’s victory by forfeit.
“The team had a great week of practice and we were really looking forward to a great game,” Palka said. “But I think the kids will really enjoy opening the season at home in front of their fans.”
HOLY NAMES KNIGHTS
The Knights are perennially one of the top teams in the Windsor and Essex County Secondary Schools Athletic Association. Last year the team went 8-1 and lost in the championship game. The Knights have lost for six straight years in the finals to the Herman Green Griffins, an Ontario football powerhouse.
This year the Knights open with games against Saline and Warren De La Salle. Coach Robert McIntyre said American opponents provide a unique challenge.
“We hope to give our players the American experience of high energy, hard-working football. Often times the American players take the game much more serious than the Canadians do and we want to show our players the difference. In the past it has been a very good experience for our kids,” McIntyre said.
The Knights are in the midst of a quarterback battle. Donato Gojci, in 12th grade, is being pressed by sophomore Jake Heydon, who led the Knights to a junior championship last year.
“Jake is coming into grade 10 so we’ll see if his athleticism overtakes the Gojci’s experience,” McIntyre said.
The running backs are brothers Zach and Michael Herzog.
“The brothers are playing on the same team for the first time in their careers,” McIntyre said.
Brandon Tatsu and Adam Cesare are the primary targets at receiver.
On the defensive side of the ball, Zach Herzog is the star at safety. CB Inho Choi and LB Dylan McKenzie are players to watch.
Although the Hornets didn’t make a return trip to Ford Field last year, it was an historic season, nonetheless. Saline went 9-0 to win the SEC Red for the second straight year and third time in four years. Saline also won the district championship for the second straight year before falling in the regional to Canton.
The Hornets have a fairly young and inexperienced team, but coach Joe Palka said the team has high expectations.
“This team is pretty similar to a lot of the teams we’ve had. We’re probably not quite as deep, so we need to stay healthy,” Palka said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. But if we stay healthy and develop, we’ll compete for the SEC and have a good playoff season.”
On offense, senior Zach Schwartzenberger won the preseason competition at QB. Schwartzenberger was pressed by senior J Drew McGovern and junior Cole Daniels. Last year, Schwartzenberger backed up Josh Jackson, now at Virginia Tech.. Schwartzenberger was also used as a receiver and running back.
“We had a good battle in camp. Zach has a lot of experience and had an impressive camp. He has a quick release and can make great throws. He’s got the ability to sprint out and make plays and he’s not afraid to tuck it in and go,” Palka said.
Connor Hibbard looks to build on a strong junior season during which he showed great acceleration and elusiveness.
“Connor was great in the scrimmages and he’s definitely our go-to guy. He’s also improved in pass catching and blocking,” Palka said.
Junior Andrew Diuble slots in at SE – in that jack-of-trades spot held by Jeb Palka, Nader El-Awar and Gage Hammond in recent years. He’ll see plenty of action running and receiving. Sophomores Brendan Munday and Hayden Scott may also run the ball.
Besides Diuble, another key target for Schwartzenberger is senior TE Bryce Wolma, who has committed to Arizona.
“He had a fantastic camp. He can play inside and outside. You line him up one-on-one with a CB and he can outrun some, outjump others and make catches in traffic,” Palka said of his 6’4, 235-pound star.
Another big target his Emmett Turner, a 6’4, 205-pound junior who’ll play at receiver. Other receivers include Brandon Boyd, Jack Zambeck, Drake Hirschfield, Vinnie Patteri and Jack Loveland. Nate Gresser and Brendan Murphy will also play at TE.
Palka said the offensive line is big but young and inexperienced. Senior Caleb Rufener is probably the most experienced of the group. He’s moving to right-tackle. Junior Dimitri Douglas (6’4, 250 pounds) also saw action last year. He’s at left tackle. Junior Zach Drevno starts at center. Senior Bennett Drake, LG, and junior Alex Lampman, RG, are also expected to start.
“It’s a good group, but it’s young. It’s one of those areas where we expect to see a lot of improvement throughout the year,” Palka said.
It all adds up to a Hornet offense that should score a lot of points.
“We might not have as much speed as we’ve had at receiver and we might not be quite as explosive, but I think we’ll be similar,” Palka said. “I think we might have to be a bit more creative in the passing game. I think we’ll probably run the ball more, too.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Palka believes his defensive line will be a force. It’s led by three-year starter Sean O’Keefe, a 6’4, 245-pound senior who plays defensive end. Senior Justice Moss, who saw considerable action last year, will play defensive tackle along with senior Josh Lupascu. Starting at the other end is 6’0 240-pound senior Nathan Powers, who also saw lots of action last year. Junior Trevor Garbo and senior Konrad Dixon will also play on the line.
“We like our D line and it should be one of the strengths of our team. It reads the blocks well and gets to the quarterback,” Palka said.
The linebacker group is young but athletic. 6’2, 210-pound Junior CJ Gildersleeve was a force as a sophomore. He’ll play in the middle. Senior Tyler Plocki and junior Ethan Collick are also expected to start at linebacker.
“The group lacks a little experience but they are really athletic. I expect they will make mistakes eraly, but they’ll improve as the year goes on,” Palka said.
The secondary is led by speedy senior Robbie Felton at cornerback.
“He’s perhaps the elite cornerback in our conference,” Palka said.
He’s joined by corner Philip Barnett, safety Ethan Walsh and safety Tom Raupp, who’ll also start at defensive back.
On special teams Vinnie Patteri will punt and kick. Drevno is the longsnapper and Schwartzenberger is the holder.
Diuble will return punts. Hibbard and Felton will return kickoffs. Collick will also be involved in returns.