Saline stops late fourth-down conversion try, holds on to top Temperance Bedford
Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com
Saline broke up a two-point conversion pass in the final minute as it staved off a late Temperance Bedford comeback bid and held on for a 16-14 win Friday night at home.
The game marked Saline's first playoff win since 2008. The Hornets will face Pioneer next Friday at home in a district title game. Pioneer won the first game, 7-6, marking Saline's only loss of the season.
The Hornets entered the fourth quarter up 16-0, but gave up touchdown drives of 80 and 81 yards in the final frame to give Bedford a chance at a game-tying conversion.
Bedford appeared to have a completion made on the play, before linebacker Geordan Olson pushed the receiver and dislodged the ball with 44 seconds left.
"Play of the game," senior linebacker Caleb Ashby said.
The Kicking Mules tried an onside kick, but Saline quarterback Tyler Palka, who has been on the hands team for only two weeks, fell on the ball.
“I knew they were going to kick it towards me, they see the quarterback out there," Palka said. "I got ticked instantly in my mind, and I just decided I’ve got to make a play. I want to win the game.”
The first time the two teams met, Saline jumped out to a two-touchdown lead, before allowing Bedford to come back and take a halftime lead. Saline scored a pair of third-quarter touchdowns and held on to win, 28-25.
In the rematch, Saline's early lead held up in the end. After its first offensive drive stalled, the Hornets' second went 81 yards on 11 plays to open the scoring in the first quarter, capped off by a four-yard Kevin Gross touchdown.
Saline went into halftime up nine, after it couldn't quite cash in on two near touchdowns. On its second drive, the Hornets nearly recorded a third-down touchdown pass before the receiver was ruled out of bounds. Saline settled for a 27-yard Gage Hammond field goal.
One drive later, Saline dropped a would-be touchdown pass on fourth down to turn the ball over.
“It felt like we should have been up 21-0, to be honest with you," Saline coach Joe Palka said. "Any time you don’t score an extra point or leave points on the field, that’s always going to come back and bite you. We were fortunate tonight to just have enough.”
But the Hornets' defensive group dominated in the first half, giving up just 63 yards of rushing, all on the ground, and just three first downs.
Before Bedford went on its two late scoring drives, the Saline defense had given up just over 100 yards of total offense.
"I thought we did a great job defending Bedford," Joe Palka said. "There was a couple of bad breaks, bad bounces and some good offense by them. We knew we wouldn’t keep them off the board, but I thought overall we did a nice job against them defensively."
Gross scored again in the third quarter from 18 yards out to give Saline a two-touchdown lead. He finished with 84 yards rushing and his team's only two touchdowns.
Tyler Palka was 10-for-16 for 69 yards and an interception, which set up Bedford's first scoring drives. Hammond caught six passes and had 51 rushing yards on two reverses.
It didn't take long after the game for Saline to turn its attention to Pioneer, its only loss of the season. The Pioneers topped Monroe, 34-0 Friday night.
"I’m sure they feel we have something to prove, we feel we have something to prove," Joe Palka said. "It sounds like they lit it up tonight, so it’s going to be a great challenge for us."