Saline defense holds strong in regional final, gives Hornets chance at comeback
Joseph Tobianski | AnnArbor.com
After that, the defense allowed just 237 yards while forcing three turnovers, allowing the Hornets to push the defending Division 1 state champs to the brink Friday night, before falling to Cass Tech 21-14 at Hornet Stadium.
“We had a lot of show coverages that messed with the quarterback so we could change it up, some show blitzes to get them off guard and it worked,” said senior Brandon Gordon who had an interception Friday night; his third in the last two games.
Boasting one of the more powerful running attacks in the state, Cass Tech showed three different backs early to the Hornets. Deon Drake, Mike Weber and Gary Hosey each carried the ball on the opening drive for the Technicians, but Saline quickly adapted to the read option.
The Hornets surrendered 335 total yards on the night, with 267 coming on the ground.
“I thought we did a good job with the personnel groupings trying to match what they did,” said Saline coach Joe Palka. “We knew they were more athletic than we were and what we had to do was hang around, continue to tackle. We won a lot of times on third down and that was critical, our defense played well enough to give us a chance to win.”
Three times during the contest the defense and special teams answered the call when Cass Tech had a chance to push its lead to multiple scores.
After Saline fumbled midway through the second quarter, Saline capitalized on a Cass Tech mistake and recovered a fumble of its own near midfield. Utilizing a short field, Saline was able to get a field goal to cut into the lead.
In the third quarter Gordon read a Jayru Campbell pass perfectly and picked off the sophomore quarterback, killing a Cass Tech drive that had moved into Saline territory.
Finally, with the score 21-14 and the Hornets kicking off, AJ Korzuck recovered an onside kick, giving the Hornets one last chance at tying the ballgame.
“The defense, they’re really the heart of our team,” said Gage Hammond. “They’ve held up strong all season and have done great things for us. We look to them to help us out and they definitely do.”
While the Hornets did a good job of containing the Cass Tech backs, there were numerous broken tackles during the game, especially from Weber. Palka thought those missed opportunities hurt his team.
“Their sheer size, strength and athleticism, I don’t think they were overly fancy,” Palka said. “At the end of the day, truthfully, the thing we needed to do better defensively was, we missed too many tackles.”
That was easier said than done.
“It’s really hard. They’re big, fast, physical,” Gordon said. “You just got to do what you can to wrap their legs up and take them down. That’s the best way to do it.”
And while the outcome wasn't what he wanted, Gordon said he was proud of his team's effort tonight, and all season long.