STILL HUNTING: CJ Carr and the Hornets Survive a Challenge from Monroe
Not many people expected a nearly down-to-the-wire slugfest when Monroe visited Hornet Stadium for an SEC Red matchup Friday. But Saline coach Joe Palka wasn’t that surprised when Saline escaped with a 42-35 victory to improve to 5-0 overall and 4-0 in the SEC Red.
“We had some injuries. We had some illness. We probably didn’t have the best week of practice, to be honest. I felt something like this coming,” Palka said. “I said we’d need a game like this where we had to keep struggling. I’m proud of the kids. It’s hard to win in high school football. And we won, that’s the most important thing.”
A tough game like this might be exactly what the Hornets needed in the middle of the season to keep the team grounded and remind the team that they’ve got to be at their best,
Palka said he addressed the team on that concept before the game.
“We didn’t win a championship last year. Since when did we become the hunted? We’ve got to go out and be the hunter until you win a championship,” Palka said. “I think they learned from it tonight.”
Saline will need to be on its toes next week when the Hornets host Huron, which fell 55-29 to Dexter Friday to fall to 3-1 in the SEC Red and 3-2 overall.
Saline can basically seal sole possession of the SEC Red with a win against Huron next week. The final two SEC Red games are against Skyline and Lincoln, who’ve struggled.
Things did not start well for Saline. Using a short passing game, Saline ventured out to midfield before Monroe forced a fumble and recovered the ball. Monroe took over at midfield.
Using the familiar Monroe Wing-T, the Trojans pushed down the field before Ty'Shawn Moore scored. Monroe led 7-0.
CJ Carr (2 rushing touchdowns and three passing touchdowns) and the Hornets wasted no time responding. Using a combination of short passes and the running game, the Hornets efficiently went down the field.
CJ Carr scored on a keeper and after the kick by Jacob Piniatoglou (6-for-6 on PATs), the game was tied at 7.
Saline’s kick-off team looked like it might have returner Michael Burns stopped inside his own five. But Burns turned around, wheeled to the other side of the field, sprinted up the sideline and made it deep into Saline territory.
The Trojans once again took advantage of the short field and Amir Oliver got the push he needed from his offensive line to score. Monroe led 14-7.
Saline quickly replied with another balanced drive that was capped by Zain Issa’s rushing touchdown. The score was tied at 14.
Piniatoglou and the kickoff team pinned the Trojans deep in their own zone and the defense held Monroe back, forcing a 4-and-short. Surprisingly, the Trojans went for it.
Tyler Fedototszkin plugged the hole and Peyton Widen led the gang tackle to stop Oliver in his tracks. Saline took over at the 20.
A few plays later, Carr rushed in for his second touchdown of the game. Saline led 21-14.
The Trojans, however, were not about to throw in the towel.
They kept the chains moving and then QB Collin Steele found Adam Nabozny wide-open deep along the Monroe sideline for a touchdown. The score was tied at 21.
The elusive Ladainian Woods broke off a 73-yeard return on the kickoff, swerving through the defense before he was brought down at the Monroe 30.
On the very next play, Carr connected with Caid Fox open near the goal line.
Saline led 28-21 and took the lead into halftime.
Monroe started the second half by returning the kickoff and tying the game at 28.
Saline’s next drive was promising, but after a pass to Dylan Mesman pushed Saline inside the five, the Hornets were pushed back by penalties. CJ Carr’s end zone try on fourth and very long didn’t work. Monroe had the ball with a chance to take the lead.
Saline’s defense came up with the stop it needed at midfield and Monroe punted. Saline took over at its own 12. Carr again relied on the passing game to move Saline down the field.
Once again, Carr and Fox connected for a long touchdown. Saline led 35-28.
Saline’s defense, partially aided by penalties, once again stopped the Trojans.
Saline took over in their own zone and quickly went to work.
The big play happened when Carr threw a 20-yard pass to Jaiden Leonard, who spun through a couple of defenders and then raced all the way down the five before he was tripped up and tackled to end the electrifying 50-yard gain.
A few plays later, Carr passed to Lincoln Keyes in the end zone. Keyes was well-covered but used his jumping ability and reach to catch the ball. Saline led 42-28.
It looked like the Hornets had the game clinched, but Monroe wasn’t ready to quit. The Trojans engineered a scoring drive to get within seven. The attempted onside kick caused a scare when the ball deflected into the air and landed on the ground before Matt Mareno recovered the ball for the Hornets. The Hornets were able to run the clock down and seal the victory.
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