FOOTBALL: Saline Tastes Defeat for the First Time in 2020, Falling at Grand Blanc

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Saline's football team tasted defeat for the first time in 2020, falling 14-13 at Grand Blanc High School Friday night.

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Saline finished the season with a 5-1 record. The loss snapped Saline's 13 regular-season game winning streak.

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"We knew it was going to be a test. A good measuring stick. We did some good things, but not enough good things," Saline coach Joe Palka said. "The nice thing is the season doesn't end. The past two seasons it's ended when we had a loss. So now we're going take this, we're going to learn from this, and we're going to get better at the things we were not good at today, and it's going to improve us for the playoffs."

Saline is slated to host Pioneer (0-5) in the eight-team district tournament starting next week. The tournament includes Huron (2-2), Skyline (1-4), Holt (2-3), Grand Ledge (4-1), Kalamazoo Central  (2-4) and Kalamazoo Loy Norrix (0-5). Saline is top the top seed in the district tournament and would maintain home-field advantage as long as they are alive.

Friday night, Grand Blanc put the Hornets on the defensive from the get-go. The Hornets kicked to the Bobcats. The Hornets thought they had the Bobcats stopped twice, but Grand Blanc converted two fourth down plays to keep the drive alive and they scored first to take a 7-0 lead.

Things didn't get any better for the Hornets when they fumbled away the ball on the ensuing kickoff return. Saline's defense was equal to the task, though, and the Hornets got the ball back, but not before the first quarter was over. 

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A 42-yard run by Gavin Lytle (16 rushes, 108 yards, 1 TD) highlighted a seven-play, 60-yard scoring drive capped off by QB Larry Robinson's one-yard keeper midway through the second quarter.

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Another second-quarter scoring drive was stymied when the Hornets turned the ball over on downs. Saline got another chance in the second quarter when Carter Smith recovered a fumble in Bobcat territory with 13 seconds left in the half, but with Robinson under pressure, the Hornets couldn't capitalize.

The game was tied at 7 after the first half.

The Hornets began the second half at their 40-yard line after a good kickoff return by Josh Rush. The Hornets went 60 yards in eight plays and scored on a two-yard run by Gavin Lytle. Brayden Stavros' kick bounced off the upright and Saline led 13-6.

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The Bobcats, propelled by a long play up the Saline sideline, replied on their next drive and took a 14-13 lead midway through the third quarter.

From there, almost nothing went right for the Saline offense, which was coming off an eight touchdown performance against Skyline.

Saline's offense struggled to find a rhythm against a quick Bobcat defense that put QB Larry Robinson under pressure in windy and wet conditions. Robinson was picked off on the next drive. Grand Blanc mounted a strong drive deep into Saline territory, but the Hornet defense would not break. Carter Smith came up with the interception in the end zone with 6:57 to play. 

But once again, a Hornet drive started with a false-start penalty.

"It seemed like every drive we had in the second half we started first and 15. When you don't have good field position it kind of tips your hand on what you've got to do," Palka said.

Saline was penalized 10 times for 95 yards.

The Saline drive didn't get far and they punted. 

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The game seemed like it was Grand Blanc's to lose, but their quarterback fumbled with 1:30 and Joe Raupp recovered with 1:27 to play at the Grand Blanc 38. But again, the Hornets couldn't move the ball. They went four and out and turned the ball over on downs.

"We had a hard time throwing because the wind conditions weren't great. Both teams didn't throw the ball well. But we also had protection problems. We've got to get that shored up. Larry seemed to be running around for his life back there," Palka said.

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Robinson was sacked six times, rushed five times and threw one interception. He completed 11 of 21 passes for 92 yards and rushed 17 times for 30 yards.

Josh Rush came dangerously close to breaking loose several times and rushed 10 times for 70 yards.

Saline's defense limited Grand Blanck to 125 yards in the air and 110 yards on the ground. The defense got the ball back for the Hornets twice in the last six minutes to give them a chance to come back.

"The defense did a nice job. Other than the first drive they did a great job and that's a pretty potent offense over there," Palka said. "We've got to hold up our end of the deal on offense a little bit better."

Several Hornets had big games on defense. Emmanuel Lupascu made nine tackles. Brett Baldus and Zach Antal  were each in on eight tackles. London Parrish made six tackles, including one where he caught up to a guy and made a touchdown-saving tackle.

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