FOOTBALL: Niethammer Rushes for 3 TDs as Saline Downs Lincoln, 34-14

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Giuseppe Gottfried lifts Ryan Niethammer into the air after Niethammer's second of three touchdowns.

It was "Hammer-Time" Friday night at Lincoln High School.

Junior Ryan Niethhammer rushed for three touchdowns as Saline shook off a slow start and defeated Lincoln, 34-14.

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The Hornets improved to 3-0 overall and 2-0 in the SEC Red. Saline hosts Monroe (3-0, 2-0 SEC Red) next week.

Friday night, Lincoln opened the scoring with a great run by Quinn Stephens. Saline answered with three straight rushing touchdowns by Niethammer. After Lincoln got to within seven points, CJ Carr scored on a keeper and he passed to Roman Laurio for another TD.

"I think we did what we needed to do to win," coach Joe Palka said. "This year, with injuries and everything, it's never probably going to be pretty. It's always going to be walking the line and finding new ways to win. We were able to do that, so I'm proud of our effort."

The game began with Saline placekicker Riley Behrman kicking off to the Railsplitters. Mostly on the ground, the Railsplitter slowly moved their way up the field. Stocky running back Quinn Stephens showed quickness and the ability to bounce off tacklers throughout the drive - but especially on his 12-yard touchdown run. The extra-point was good and Lincoln led 7-0 and had taken more than eight minutes off the clock.

Saline answered on its first drive. The Hornets, without playmakers Larry Robinson, Josh Rush and Caden Winston, moved up the field in workmanlike fashion - mostly on runs by Niethammer and QB CJ Carr.

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The second quarter began with Niethammer running untouched, thanks to great blocks by Luke Masters and Dylan Mesman, into the end zone. After Behrman's kick, the game was tied at seven.

Saline's defense appeared to figure out the Lincoln scheme on the next draft. Andrew Hartley dropped the Lincoln QB in the backfield and Lincoln was forced to punt.

"People come out each week and try to attack us a little differently. Coach Wilson waits to see what they're going to do and he adjusts," Palka said. "To their credit (the defense) didn't give up any home runs."

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But Saline's offensive drive didn't get far. CJ Carr was sacked twice and the Hornets punted. Saline's defense got the ball right back. Joshua Warner sacked QB Trey Richey and the Railsplitters punted. Again, Niethammer moved the Hornets up the field on the ground. Carr passed to Gavin Mesman for a first down. After a near-strike from Carr to Mesman just failed to click, Niethammer ran a sweep into the end zone. Behrman's kick gave Saline a 14-7 lead.

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Saline took that lead into halftime.

The second half began with Lincoln kicking off to Saline, which gained good field position on Sam Frush's return. The Hornets moved up the field with Carr's pass to Garrett Baldwin and runs by Niethammer. Carr and Baldwin nearly connected in the end zone before Niethammer followed a big push by the offensive line and forced his way over the line for six points. Behrman's kick made it 21-7, Saline.

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Palka is pleased by the improvement Niethammer has made this season.

"I think he's really making a lot of progress, from week one to week three, he's forced us to make a commitment to run the football. Tonight we weren't firing on all cylinders early in the passing game. We needed to rely on the run game and Ryan came through," Palka said.

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Lincoln replied with a scoring drive capped by a short run by Jorden Collier. Saline led 21-14 with 2:46 remaining in the third quarter.

Saline's next drive began with Blaise Blastos running for the Hornets. Saline crossed midfield on a nice passing play between Carr and Roman Laurio. 

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Saline scored on a keeper by Carr from inches beyond the goal line.

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The next Lincoln possession ended with a third-down sack by Josh Warner

Saline got the ball back with great field position. Carr spotted Laurio wide open on the Lincoln sideline and hit the target. Laurio ran into the end zone. Behrman's kick was blocked. Saline led 34-14.

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Palka was happy with how sophomore QB CJ Carr looked (1 rushing TD, 1 passing TD) steered the offense even when the passing game wasn't clicking early.

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