FOOTBALL: Opening Night Win a Confidence Boost for Young Saline Football Team


Ryan Stein and Tate Bezeau celebrate Stein's fumble recovery in the fourth quarter of Saline's win over Hudsonville Thursday.

It's great to learn on the job. It's even better when you can win at the same time.

A young and inexperienced Saline Hornets football team overcame a slow start to defeat Hudsonville, 24-15, and celebrate opening night at Hornet Stadium Thursday.

Trust is the hallmark of a good football team and winning in game one kickstarts trust-building. Especially when you start a season with so many questions. Especially when you endure turnovers and mistakes and still find a way to win.

"It gives us a ton of confidence. We all had questions. I'm sure the players had questions. One thing that's not talked about very much is we lost four coaches. We got a lot of new guys in there helping call the shots," Saline head coach Joe Palka said. "So we had a lot of questions, but what this does is it emboldens our trust in each other. Wins like this go far for your program and for your team.

Palka said the stellar defensive performance was made even more impressive by the youth.

"We've had some great defensive performances over the years, but in my opinion, this racks up as one of the best," Palka said. "We had nine new starters out there and two true freshmen (James Rush and Isaiah Harris) - with both guys making plays down the stretch. Keeping us in the game and allowing us to win it at the end, that's just a phenomenal job by our defense."

Star junior QB CJ Carr, playing behind a rookie offensive line, found himself scrambling around. He lost a couple of fumbles and was picked off twice in the end zone. But he also showed speed and deceptiveness on one rushing touchdown and plowed through the defense behind is OL on another. He completed 30 of 43 pass attempts for 327 yards.

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Senior Garrett Baldwin turned in a monster game. Early in the contest, as the Hornets looked for their rhythm, Baldwin boosted the team with great kick-off returns. He made a big tackle to prevent a touchdown. He made a good catch and then held on to the ball despite taking a heavy helmet-to-helmet hit on a drive that led to Saline's touchdown. He had an interception. He had a rushing touchdown called back on a holding penalty. Later in the game, he blocked a fourth-quarter field goal attempt that would have given Hudsonville the lead. And he finished the game with 10 catches and 115 yards.

Baldwin might not (yet) have colleges banging on his door - but coach Palka and the Hornets know what they have.

"He's just what we call a baller. When he was young, he always had a little edge to him. That edge is that toughness, physical and mental," Palka said. "He's really improved his speed to become an explosive player. He's worked so hard. People sleep on him a little bit, but he's going to be a great college football player."


Saline opened the game by kicking off to Hudsonville. The Eagles picked up 54 yards on Trey Carr's pass to Elija Vanderveen. Garrett Baldwin's tackle prevented a likely touchdown. The Hornet bent but wouldn't break. Hudsonville got down to the six but Saline stopped them there. Ian Munoz kicked a 23-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.

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Baldwin returned the ensuing kick-off 45 yards to the 50. CJ Carr completed passes to Roman Laurio and Baldwin to move the ball down the field. The Hornets got down to the 16 when CJ Carr was forced to scramble - he got down to about the 10 when the ball was knocked from his hands and Hudsonville received at the 11.

The Eagles moved the ball all the way down to the Saline 37, taking most of the remaining time off the first quarter clock when Trey Carr tossed a long, high pass into coverage. Baldwin picked it off and Saline got the ball back at the three.

But the Hornets quickly gave the ball right back just three plays later when CJ Carr lost the ball when he was sacked. Hudsonville took over at the Saline four. 

On the first play of the second quarter, Trey Carr rushed in for the touchdown. Hudsonville's extra-point attempt was wide. Hudsonville led 9-0 - and at this point, it seemed like very little was going right for the Hornets.

Once again, Baldwin gave the Hornets great field position, running back the kick-off 42 yards out to the Saline 45. On 4th-and-7, at mid-field, the Hornets went decided against punting. CJ Carr found Baldwin over the middle. 

Baldwin made the catch for a first and took a heavy hit to the helmet resulting in 15 more yards. The Hornets had a first down at the 13. Two plays later, Baldwin ran a sweep into the end-zone, but it was called back for holding. On the next play, CJ Carr scrambled in the pocket before jetting toward the end-zone, juking several defenders along the way.  After Riley Berhman's kick, Saline was down 9-7


Saline got a stop on the next Eagles drive.  Hudsonville pressed as far as the Saline 33. On 4th-and-7, a pass fell incomplete and the Hornets took over. Saline moved nine yards when Carr passed to Baldwin. After Carr was sacked, Saline called timeout and then Carr made a great pass to a sprinting Laurio along the Saline sideline. Laurio made the over-the-shoulder catch at full speed for a 42-yard gain.


A couple of plays later, Carr followed his blocks into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown. Saline led 14-9 after Behrman's kick.


Hudsonville's next possession began at its 15. After moving the chains once, Trey Carr throw to VanderVeen for a 59-yard pickup. Again, Baldwin made a touchdown-saving tackle. This time, however, the Eagles scored. Trey Carr ran in from one yard out. A two-point conversion attempt failed and Hudsonville led 15-14.

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The Hornets moved the ball out to midfield for a 41-yard field goal attempt by Behrman, the kick was side. Hudsonville led, 15-14, at halftime.

The Eagles kicked to the Hornets to start the third and Baldwin again returned the ball 40 yards out to the 45. Saline came out throwing short passes. Carr completed five straight passes to move the Hornets down to the 17. The drive stalled at the 14. 

Behrman kicked a 31-yard field goal through the uprights to give Saline a 17-15 lead


Hudsonville's next possession started deep in their own territory after they dropped the kick and were tackled by Sam Kreuzer at the 11. The eagles moved the chains twice before Saline halted their progress. Hudsonville punted the ball away and Saline took over at its 25.

Again, CJ Car went to work with short passes, completing six straight passes to move the ball to the Hudson 24. But on 1st-and-10 from the 24, Carr's end zone attempt for Ryan Niethammer was intercepted by Gibson Kok. Hudsonville took over at its 20. The Eagles moved down to the Saline 12. On 3rd-and-7, a pass into the end zone for VanderVeen was broken up by Baldwin. The Eagles lined up for a 29-yard field goal attempt. 

Baldwin broke through the line and blocked the kick. James Rush picked up the ball and ran it to the 29-yard line.

Saline's drive made it out to midfield before Carr punted. 

Hudsonville took control at the 20. They got the ball out to the 35 when Cade Tousa knocked the ball out of the hands of Connor Brintnall. It was picked up by Ryan Stein. Saline took over at the Hudsonville 33. Passes to Caid Fox, Dylan Mesman and Laurio moved down to the one. Two plays later, Carr's end zone attempt for Dylan Mesman was intercepted by VanderVeen.

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Hudsonville got the ball back at its own 20 with 5:28 to play, down by a point. Four plays later, Tate Bezeu jarred the ball loose and it was recovered by Sam Kreuzer. Saline took over at the Hudsonville 31 with 3:40 to play. Carr threw passes to Laurio and Baldwin to move the Hornets down to the 10. 


Three plays later, Niethammer rushed in from the four. After Behrman's kick, Saline led 24-15.

Hudsonville's last-ditch effort was foiled when Tousa intercepted a deflected pass.





Cmp Att Yds TD Int
#13 CJ Carr 30 43 327 0 2
Att Yds Avg TD
#26 Ryan Niethammer 13 32 2.5 1
#13 CJ Carr 7 5 0.7 2
Team 1 -1 -1 0
Rec Yds Avg TD
#8 Roman Laurio 10 139 13.9 0
#18 Garrett Baldwin 10 115 11.5 0
#5 Dylan Mesman 3 33 11 0
#10 Tommy Carr 2 14 7 0
#26 Ryan Niethammer 1 8 8 0
#1 Matt Walper 1 7 7 0
#12 Kyle Barbarino 1 6 6 0
#11 Caid Fox 2 5 2.5 0
#20 Ryan Stein 0 0 0 0
Tkl Solo Sac TFL Int
#90 Sam Kreuzer 8.5 7 0 2 0
#20 Ryan Stein 7.5 6 0 0 0
#18 Garrett Baldwin 5 5 0 0 1
#7 Jackson Conley 4 3 0 0 0
#79 Michael Reder 4 4 0 0 0
#45 Zach Miller 3.5 3 0 1 0
#80 Sullivan Mills 3.5 3 0 0 0
#42 Tate Bezeau 2.5 2 0 0 0
#91 Isaiah Harris 2 2 0 0 0
#24 James Chikwe 1.5 1 0 1 0
#13 CJ Carr 1 1 1 1 0
#4 Sam Miller 1 1 0 0 0
#34 James Rush 1 1 0 0 0
#26 Ryan Niethammer 1 1 0 0 0
#2 Cade Tousa 1 1 0 0 1
#5 Dylan Mesman 1 1 0 0 0
#15 Noah Reeves 1 1 0 0 0
#21 Peyton Widen 1 1 0 0 0
#3 Riley Behrman 1 2 3 6
Att Yds Avg I20
#13 CJ Carr 1 47 47 0
Att Yds Avg TD
#2 Cade Tousa 1 10 10 0
Att Yds Avg TD
#18 Garrett Baldwin 3 127 42.3 0
#8 Roman Laurio 1 29 29 0


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Saline 24 Hudsonville 15
Huron vs Lapeer @ UofM - 7 p.m., Friday
New Anchor Bay 42 Pioneer 7
Bedford 42 Utica Ford 21
Dexter vs Grosse Pointe South @ WSU - 1 p.m., Saturday
Lincoln 20, Farmington 14
Pinckney 28 Skyline 13


Saline @ Huron, Thursday
Monroe @ Lincoln
Skyline @ Dexter
Pioneer @ Bedford

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