What: Bedford (3-0, 1-0 SEC) at Saline (3-0, 1-0 SEC)
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Hornet Stadium
Student Section: Orange (ChadTough)
History: Since 1950 Saline holds a 10-8 record against Bedford. Last year Saline beat Bedford 43-0 -- the most lopsided victory in the history of the series. Saline won 49-17 in 2014. Since the Palka era began in 2012, whoever has won the Saline-Bedford game has won the SEC and won the district championship. Prior to Palka’s arrival the Mules had won four straight.
If week one is any indication, the SEC Red is up for grabs.
Last week Saline defeated Skyline 24-21 in a game that went down to the final minute. At Bedford, the Kicking Mules defeated the Pioneers 22-21 in overtime. Monroe defeated Huron 35-7.
The landscape looks different in 2016. Last year, the Hornets scored 195 points and gave up just 27 points on their way to their second straight unblemished SEC Red title.
Everything about the opening week of conference play suggests winning the SEC Red will be much more difficult this year.
“Skyline showed they’re a good team. Bedford and Pioneer had a great game that went down to the wire and they have great teams. We know Monroe has a good team. It’s anyone’s league,” Saline head coach Joe Palka said. “That’s why you want to keep getting wins while getting better. Even if you lose a game early, you need to keep working because you might get an opportunity later if someone knocks off the leader.”
Friday’s game between Saline and Bedford is a big one. Both teams are 3-0. Both teams are 1-0 in the SEC Red. The Mules want to avenge last year’s 43-0 shellacking – the most lopsided game in the history of the rivalry.
And consider this: Since 2012, whoever wins the Bedford-Saline game has won at least a share of the SEC Red and has won the district championship. That’s more a statement of how good these teams have been than a prediction.
Palka said Bedford will be a big challenge for his team.
“The thing about Bedford is their experience. They have so many returning starters from last year’s team,” Palka said.
On offense the Mules are led by seniors QB Joey Weimer and RB Joey Oehlers. Bedford loves to run the football. Oehlers ran 27 times for 101 yards and two TDs last week. Weimer ran 24 times for 82 yards.
“We’re going to have to stop them from the inside out. We need to take away the middle. They also like to run the jet sweep so we have to contain that,” Palka said.
Saline’s linebackers and defensive line faces its biggest test of the year so far Friday.
When Weimer throws (3-for-8 for 103 yards last week) his favorite target is senior David Jeffers, who caught two passes for 91 yards. In overtime he threw to Gabe Carls for a touchdown.
The Mules gave up just 2 touchdowns in regulation last week – one on a fumbled punt return and one a blocked field goal. So the Mules’ defense is stubborn.
Palka said his offense needs to execute better this week.
“I thought we had too many mistakes last week,” Palka said.
On offense, expect a balanced attack from the Hornets with lots of Connor Hibbard runs and Zach Schwartzenberger passes to his favorite targets, Bryce Wolma, Andrew Diuble, Emmett Turner and Nate Gresser.