Looking back on a year filled with positives, yet a painful ending. Awards, superlatives, and recognitions.
When the hot days turn into chilly nights, and the leaves slowly turn into blooming red and crisp orange, Saline turns its attention to Friday Night Football. Following what can only be described as a fascinating start to the season, with various storylines emerging, to a heartbreaking ending, this season was filled with peaks and valleys. Head Coach Joe Palka manned the ship for an undefeated season, building a prolific offense led by an extremely talented quarterback, and a defense that kept improving. Yet, a terrific season was marred by a brutal playoff loss to Canton, one that will define this season for years to come. However, it’s a season that is worth looking back on as the attention turns to the future.
When reflecting on Saline’s season, there are many memorable moments to choose from. However, a team that is largely judged for it’s postseason success was never able to gain the notable plays in the playoffs that seasons are determined by. Nevertheless, in an undefeated regular season, it’s difficult to choose a singular moment as the best.
There can only be one, however, and the Hudsonville goal line stands out above the rest. In an unbelievable season opener at the historic Big House, the defense’s stop at the 1 yard line was a foreshadowing of the season to come. This game featured C.J. Carr announcing himself to the conference, Max Koehen making a tackle on the 1 yard line to save the game, and an electric atmosphere at the Big House.
This game not only had an incredible ending, but also represented a building block for the rest of the year. Until that point, Saline had lost their opening non conference game the past 4 years. By getting over this hump, players and fans alike knew this had a chance to be a special season.
Honorable Moment: Roman Laurio’s catch against Huron
Most Disappointing Moment
The loss to Canton was really the only disappointing mark of the season for Saline. Losing in the first round after a great season stings a lot, especially when many feel that the perfect storm was brewing for an upset. The weather, Canton's ground game, and the struggles of the offense in the first half led to a shocking loss for Saline. Although, it’s fair to question if the lack of competitive games in the second half of the schedule impacted the Hornet’s first half opening in this game.
Larry Robinson’s injury also was a heartbreaking moment of the year. In a season that was going to give him a proper send off for the career Robinson has had, after the first game of the year it was brought down within days. A blow to the team, and a blow to a player who has done everything right at Saline.
Honorable Mention: Larry Robinson’s injury
For Saline, this season was all about the defined stars who emerged as the season went on. C.J. Carr, Caden Winston, and Giuseppe Gottfried were all well established as leaders heading into the new year. On the other hand, new players surfaced as impact players.
One player who seemed to especially announce his presence from the beginning was wide receiver Roman Laurio. Laurio became Carr’s favorite connection, as he slowly became the number one receiver for a high octane offense. His highlight moment was the acrobatic catch in the left corner of the endzone in a key matchup against Huron to put Saline ahead two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. In a season filled with high passing numbers, Lario became the catalyst.
Honorable Mention: Garret Baldwin, Zach Antal
As an offensive lineman, one tends to not receive the accolades and attention that they deserve. Yet, the game is won at the line of scrimmage, where the offensive lineman do their work. Therefore, it only feels right to give this award to Luke Masters, who had a phenomenal season at guard for the Hornets.
Unlike his teammate Giuessepe Gottfried, Masters did not receive any Division 1 offers. Still, Masters had a tremendous season at guard, as his run blocking paved the way for the Hornets explosive runs, as his IQ coupled with his above average athleticism created gaping holes. If given the right opportunity, Masters could make a big impact at the next level.
Honorable mention: Garret Beazley, Josh Warner
Someone who is willing to work past injuries or hardships in order to provide value for the team, embodies grit. Saline had plenty of players this year, yet Garret Baldwin stood out as someone whose passion for the game overcame any bruises. Baldwin played both ways, as he started at safety, while also emerging as a wide receiver on offense. Sacrificing his body at two crucial positions is something that coaches and teammates alike admired.
Furthermore, according to sources, Baldwin played at least two games with a broken hand. His unwillingness to come off the field, coupled with his determination, gives Baldwin the clear lead for grittiest player
Honorable mention: Josh Rush, Ian Gifford
The play of Saline’s defense was a key reason for many of their wins this year. Oftentimes the offense got the shine, but Coach Wilson’s defense put the offense in great situations throughout the year.
For a cornerback, sometimes people ignoring you means you're doing a good job. That embodied the play of Max Koehen this year. Hardly ever challenged by opposing quarterbacks, Koehen kept his side of the field off limits. By doing this, he was virtually able to take away a wide receiver, something that is so valuable to a defense.
Koehen also contributed in the run game and on special teams. For a corner, his ability to stick his nose in the running game and tackle was impressive. His most impressive moment came on a tackle actually, as his stop at the 1 yard line against Hudsonville prevented the Eagles from scoring. Furthermore, Koehen blocked two extra points, and was constantly showing up on special teams. His contributions might not show up as much in the stat sheets, but his presence changed opposing offenses' gameplans all year.
Honorable mention: Joe Raupp, Carter Smith.
In a season that will result in many awards and ceremonies, C.J. Carr led this Saline offense to the top of the conference. In the first game, Carr showed that his talent was undeniable, as many off platform throws and arm talent were quickly recognizable. He would carry that throughout the rest of the season, while also cutting down on the sophomore mistakes that some expected, with only four interceptions.
Carr threw for nearly 2,700 yards at a 64 percent completion rate. Furthermore, his ability to pull the offense out of rough spots was massive, as the Hornets escaped 3rd and longs with Carr's arm talent and legs. His conversation rate in the red zone was also key, as he and Gavin Messman found a connection inside the 20s.
Carr is the biggest reason for optimism heading into next season, as the four star will continue to improve. At its most simplest value, quarterback play often determines who wins the football game, and frankly in nearly every game this season, Saline had the better quarterback.
Honorable mention: Caden Winston, Giuesseppe Gottfried