To win its first game of the season, the Saline needed to knock off the two-time defending state champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central Cougars – who entered Hornet Stadium on a 21-game win streak. After a slow start, the Hornets used big plays on both sides of the ball to win 17-7.
Saline improved to 1-1. Next week, the Hornets visit Ypsilanti-Lincoln, who are 2-0 after defeating Tecumseh, 63-7, and Adrian, 35-8.
Saline senior MJ Griffin ran for a 77-yard touchdown to help the Hornets tie the game. The Hornets took the lead on a seven-yard run by Brendan Munday (17 carries, 76 yards) in the third quarter. JT Turner kicked a 19-yard field goal later in the third quarter to pad Saline’s lead. On defense, the Hornets got big plays from Adonis Gammo, Brad Wisniewski, Alex Morrison and Connor Terech.
“We knew what we were getting our selves into with (Grand Rapids Catholic Central). We thought it would be a dogfight and for a while I thought they had us on our heels,” Saline coach Joe Palka said. “But I think we really grew up in the second half and made enough plays to win.”
It was an important win for the Hornets for many reasons. Defeating a team like Grand Rapids CC gives the Hornets much needed confidence. Secondly, falling to 0-2 would put the Hornets’ playoff hopes in a precarious position. Additionally, the Hornets won the game using junior varsity quarterbacks Anthony Ferrari and Larry Robison.
“With the adversity we’ve had to overcome, it may be one of the biggest program wins we’ve had,” Palka said. “You can’t discount the longest win streak in the state, two straight state championships and an athletic, impressive-looking team.”
Andrew Arbaugh, the Hornets starter in week one, was out with an injury. Saline opened the game with MJ Griffin taking snaps and Alex Morrison running the football. Morrison, normally a linebacker, pushed the Hornets to the Cougars’ 41 after gaining 19 yards on two rushes. Then Griffin broke loose for a 26-yard run to the 15, but the play was called back on holding. Kyle Greenwood entered as QB on 1st-and-20. Greenwood had a couple good rushes and Munday ran for seven yards, but the Hornets couldn’t convert on 4th-and-6. The Cougars took over at the their 37th. After giving up one first down, Saline’s defense stopped the Cougars at midfield. On 3rd-and-9, Wisniewski stopped Nate Trudeau for a three-yard gain after a catch.
Kolton Malinczak, who continues to make big plays for Saline, returned the punt 32 yards to the Cougars’ 48. Anthony Ferrari entered the game at QB and completed his first pass to Malinczak for an 11-yard pick up. He then completed passes to Brendan Murphy for 12 and 10 yards. Saline was in the red zone. A run by Hayden Scott pushed the Hornets down to the 12. But the Hornets fumbled the ball away on the next play. The Cougars took over at their 10. QB Joe Collins engineered a 90-yard scoring drive, converting two third-down plays to get into the red zone. Then, after Jonah Ashby stopped Erik Grabow for no-gain on 3rd-and-1 from the Saline 16, the Cougars went for it on fourth down. Grabow got the push he needed to move the chains and keep possession. On the next play, Collins passed to Nate Trudeau in the end zone. The Cougars led 7-0 with 1:11 to play in the quarter.
Saline’s next drive did not go well after Trevor Arico’s 21-yard kick off return to the Saline 45. The Hornets were set back by another holding penalty. On 3rd-and-17, the Cougars sacked Ferrari for a five yard loss. Brendan Cropsey’s punt bounced to the Cougars 19 – for a 48-yard punt. Despite the great punt, the Cougars were playing with swagger, using a balanced attack to move the ball into Saline territory.
On 2nd-and-10 at the Saline 15, Saline defensive tackle Adonis Gammo exploded through the line and brought down Collins for a 16-yard loss.
Saline’s defense thwarted two more attempts through the air. The Hornets got the ball back at their own 31. This time, Larry Robison took the snaps at QB. Robison completed a pass to MJ Griffin for a 14-yard pick up to get Saline out to midfield. But the Hornets fumbled the ball away. Again, Saline’s defense was up to the task. On 3rd-and-4, the Hornets stopped a pass attempt. The Cougars punted from the Saline 43. The punt bounced toward the Saline goal line when Malinczak, who seemed content to let the Cougars down the ball, surprised everyone by scooping the ball and rushing for 15 yards.
Saline took over at its 23. On second down, Griffin took the snap, went to his right, beat one defender and then bounced out to the sideline. It looked like one of the Cougars might catch him, but Griffin pushed him off and then accelerated away from him and into the end zone. JT Turner’s kick tied the game at 7.
Palka said the Hornets spent the night trying to get the ball in the hands of four or five Hornets capable of making big plays.
“MJ’s run was the spark of the turnaround. We had some great blocks on the outside, but there's one guy who he makes miss at the point of attack,” Palka said. “Let's face it, that's getting the ball in your athlete's hands. It's nothing I dialed up. That's just a great athlete making a play.”
The teams went into their dressing rooms tied at 7.
The Hornets came out full of confidence. They thought they recovered an onside kick to start the quarter. No matter, the defense got the ball quickly. Jonah Ashby dropped Shawn Wells for a three-yard loss on first down. The Cougars backpedaled five yards with a penalty. And on 3rd-and-6, with the Hornets chasing him, Collins threw a pass that was picked off by Connor Terech.
Saline took over at its 47 with Ferrari behind center. He passed to Malinczak for 10 yards on first down. On 4th-and-5, Ferrari passed to Brendan Murphy who then pounded his way to an 18-yard gain to the Cougars 18. After a false-start penalty, Ferrari threw to MJ Griffin for 11 yards. Two plays later, Munday ran in from the seven-yard line for a touch down. Saline led 14-7 after Turner’s kick.
Palka was impressed with Munday’s performance.
“He's a horse. A lot of those things he's getting on his own. They loaded up the box, we were still going to get the ball to him and he's getting a lot of yardage,” Munday said.
Saline’s defense stopped the Cougars’ next drive after just 18 yards. On 2nd’and-8, Zach Sabin stopped Grabow for a three-yard loss. The Cougars punted to the Saline 30. Ferrari moved the Hornets to midfield with two passes to Malinczak. Then Munday broke free for a 32-yard gain to the Cougars’ five. Saline couldn’t punch it into the end zone. On 4th-and-2, Palka elected to go for the field goal. Turner’s 19-yard attempt was good. Saline led 17-7.
Saline looked like it might ice the game in the fourth quarter when the Hornets pushed the ball all the way down to the goal line. But the Hornets fumbled the ball away. The Cougars took over at their three-yard line with 3:55 to play. Collins and the Cougars pushed their way down the field. They had the ball on fourth down at the Saline one yard line with 37 seconds to play. A touchdown would give the Cougars a chance to recover an onside kick and take a few shots at the end zone.
But the Hornet defense ended any comeback fantasies by stopping Grabow in his tracks.
Mancino’s Pizza and Grinders 3 Stars
- MJ Griffin – Made big plays on both sides of the ball. Changed the game with a 77-yard TD run that electrified Hornet Stadium.
- Adonis Gammo – The entire Hornet defense played well. Gammo’s second quarter sack stopped the Cougars from potentially building a 14-0 lead. The defensive line of Gammo, Ashby (11 tackles), Wisniewski and Sabin made big plays all night.
- Brendan Munday – Munday rushed 17 times for 76 yards and a touchdown. He had a big run setting up Saline’s third quarter field goal, too. Munday picked up tough yards even when the Cougars thought they were ready for him. Honorable mention to QB Anthony Ferrari, who completed 13 of 17 passes for 146 yards.