Game of the Week preview: Saline back in the playoffs after exceeding regular season expectations
Daniel Brenner | AnnArbor.com
When new Saline High School football coach Joe Palka gathered his team for the first time for fall camp, he had plenty of changes to install.
New offensive and defensive schemes. New practice routines. A new two-player platoon system.
It all had an unsurprising effect on the returning players.
“I think they were shell-shocked for a little while during two-a-days,” Palka said.
Two months later, everyone has settled in.
The Hornets put a cap on an 8-1 regular season last Friday, the team’s best mark since an undefeated season in 1990.
Palka said the success is due to his players and coaches buying in to the new system and improving as the year has gone on.
“Truthfully, I’m pleasantly surprised,” Palka said. “We exceeded my expectations.”
The Hornets will open the playoffs against Temperance Bedford Friday. Saline won the regular season matchup, 28-25 on Sept. 23.
Saline is in the playoffs for the third time in the last five years, but hasn't won a district title since 2006.
This year’s group appears to have as good a chance as any to take one home -- the Hornets are on a five-game win streak since their only loss of the year, 7-6 to Pioneer, and have given up only 33 points in the four games since the Bedford game.
That matches Palka’s preseason assessment -- that his team would play its best football at the end of the year, after his players had time to adjust to his new system.
Yet to Saline’s starting quarterback, Tyler Palka, the system was the same, after he moved with his dad from Toledo Whitmer to Saline. Palka finished with 1,648 passing yards, second in the area.
“I don’t talk about it a lot, but to have a senior quarterback that’s been in the system’s helped us quite a bit,” Palka said.
And the defense, has “overachieved,” Palka said, singling out Caleb Ashby and Caleb Luckett as key contributors.
"The biggest thing is our coaching staff has done a great job of blending together and the players believe in what we’re doing," Palka said. "That’s what it really comes down to.”
Game of the Week:
The Saline vs. Temperance Bedford game and the Milan vs. Carleton Airport game both received 518 votes in the AnnArbor.com Game of the Week poll. AnnArbor.com will cover both games on Friday and have reporters contributing to the live chat from both sites.