FOOTBALL: Saline Speeds Past Bedford in the Battle of Unbeatens
With the SEC Red title on the line, Saline scored early and often in a 56-14 victory over Bedford in what was billed as a battle between unbeaten teams.
Saline improved to 4-0 and clinched at least a share of the SEC Red title. Saline hosts Skyline next week with a chance to clinch sole possession of the SEC Red.
The Hornets played in front of a boisterous crowd. Relaxed social distancing orders allowed the marching band, dance team , a Homecoming ceremony and up to 1,000 people to attend the game. Previously, only the team, coaching the cheerleaders and their parents were allowed to attend games.
"Our goal was to start faster and obviously, we did that," Palka said. "We challenged the kids before the game and we said, players win games. It's not coaches who win games. We need players to make plays and they did."
One guy who made plays for Saline was Josh Rush, who took the challenge to heart. On the first play from scrimmage, Rush took off for a 91-yard touchdown.
"When we can get a home run hitter like that in the backfield, this offense can really go," Palka said.
And that's what the offense did all night, turning in Saline's best attack of the year.
Josh Rush ran the ball twice, for the aforementioned 91-yard touchdown and a 49-yard score. He also caught a pass for a 49-yard score.
QB Larry Robinson also had a monster game. He completed 13-of-16 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns, to Rush, Nicholas Walper and Luke Darmos. Robinson also rushed five times for 46 yards and two touchdowns.
"When I look at Larry, the game has slowed down for him. He is as accurate as can be, he's making all the right decisions and playing really comfortable and I think our other players are feeding off that right now," Palka said.
Saline put up 540 yards of offense - 288 on the ground and 252 through the air. Gavin Lytle had another strong game, running 14 times for 100 yards and a touchdown. Rush caught three passes for 63 yards. Darmos caught three passes for 68 yards. Walper caught one pass for 71 yards. Roman Laurio also caught three passes for 23 yards. Eric Peoples, Caden Winston and Nathan Holmberg each caught one pass.
Palka said the offensive line played a strong, physical game and continues to improve.
Defensively, the Hornets gave up a touchdown in the third quarter. The other touchdown was a pick-six. Saline gave up 178 yards of offense. Bedford completed one of six passes for a handful of yards. The Mules rushed 39 times for 175 yards, many of which came on their third-quarter drive.
"We were facing a triple-option team with a good fullback. We wanted to stop that and force them to get a little more one-dimensional on the outside," Palka said. "We played a different coverage that maybe they hadn't seen. The quarterback got loose a couple times, but coach Wilson and the defense did a nice job shutting them adjusting and shutting them down after that."
One of the leaders of the Saline defense was defensive end Emmanuel Lupascu, a senior who worked his way into the starting lineup and has become a force. He made nine tackles and brought down the quarterback with Brett Baldus for a sack. He can take down runners with brute strength or use his speed, catch them from behind and make a shoestring tackle.
"He's having a phenomenal year. He kind of came out of nowhere. He was with us last year and kind of waiting for his turn. Now he's turned into a dominant player for us," Palka said. "We pick game captains and this is the second time he's been a captain because of his dominant play."
Max Miller led the team with 11 tackles. Baldus and Bryce Wizner each had eight. London Parrish made five. Blake Wilson made two tackles and recovered a fumble.
The Hornets are looking for their seventh straight conference title.
Palka said tonight was the first time the team has talked about winning the conference.
"The kids come into every season with pressure to keep the SEC winning streak and conference championship streak alive. All I challenge them to do is get a little bit better every day," Palka said. "The first time we've talked about any SEC championship was tonight, because the goal was in sight. They're going to be hungry next week to go get that title."
9:35: One play, 91-yard drive in 14 seconds. Rush, 91-yard rushing TD. Brayden Stavros kick.
3:58: 4 plays, 90 yards in 1:45. Robinson to Walper for a 71-yard passing TD. Stavros kick. 14-0.
1:52: One-play, 47-yard drive in 10 seconds. Robinson to Rush for a 47-yard passing TD. Stavros kick. 21-0.
9:37: 3-play, 65-yard drive in 54 seconds. Robinson to Darmos for a 46-yard TD pass. Stavros kick. 28-0.
5:00: 3-play, 64-yard drive in 1:09. 49-yard TD rush by Rush. Stavros kick. 35-7.
0:26: 6-play, 40-yard drive in 1:49. Robinson one-yard rushing TD. Stavros kick. 42-7.
7:55: Seven-play, 75-yard drive in 3:12. Lytle 19-yard TD run. Stavros kick. 48-14.
9:39: Robinson 16-yard TD run. Stavros kick. 56-14.
- Saline scored 56 points against Bedford - that's the most ever, based on states on Michigan-football.com, which has games dating back to 1950.
- It's the most points Bedford's given up since 1971, when Bedford lost to Toledo Whitmer, 60-6. Joe Palka has coached Saline and Whitmer.
- Brayden Stavros, a varsity soccer captain and member of the track and field team, joined the football team this week and went 8-for-8 on extra-point kicks.
- It's Saline's 37th straight win in the SEC Red, not including playoff games. The streak dates back to 2013.
SEC Red Standings
Saline 56 Bedford 14
Ypsilanti 1 Huron 0 (forfeit)
Monroe @ Pioneer (Saturday)
Tecumseh 22 Skyline 21
Skyline @ Tecumseh
Huron @ Adrian
Pioneer @ Ypsilanti
Monroe @ Bedford