high school football: Pioneer defense comes up big in 7-6 win over Saline
Daniel Brenner | AnnArbor.com
The Saline football team had three minutes, two seconds to drive 85 yards. Actually, trailing Pioneer 7-6 in the fourth quarter at Hornets Stadium, Saline didn’t even need to go that far.
Maybe just 65 yards or so, and put Gage Hammond in position to kick his third field goal of the second half and escape with the win.
As the Saline offense began to move down the field in chunks - a 13-yard pass here, a 15-yard-gain there - it appeared that’s exactly what would happen. But it seemed wrong for a game, so defined by defense to that point, to end on such an offensive note.
And it didn’t.
As soon as it appeared as if the Saline offense would finally do what it’s done all season - score in a hurry - the Pioneer defense put a defensive exclamation point on the win with a Bradley Koenig interception of a Tyler Palka pass near midfield with 2:26 remaining.
In a game defined by defense and turnovers -- the teams combined for nine -- Koenig, effectively ended the game with one last dose of both.
"We don’t think any offense should score on us," Koenig said. "And if they can’t score, then we can’t lose, so it’s a great feeling."
Pioneer running back Marquise Thomas officially ended the game when he converted a fourth-and-one, allowing Pioneer (2-2, 2-0 SEC Red) to take a knee and run the clock down to claim the 7-6 win.
Thomas finished with 24 carries for 115 yards while splitting carries with Zak Davis, who had 16 carries for 92 yards and Pioneer's lone touchdown on a 23-yard run in the second quarter.
Pioneer had six turnovers on the night -- three interceptions and three fumbles, one of which was on a bad snap on a field goal attempt.
"We were our own worst enemy with the turnovers," Pioneer coach Paul Test said. "We moved the ball well, we just gotta find a way to make drives finish and (score) touchdowns."
Pioneer dominated both sides of the ball in the first half, outgaining Saline 192-100, but miscues on offense in Saline territory kept the Pioneers from a lead reflective of that as they led just 7-0 at the break.
Hammond kicked a pair of field goals in a 1:15 span at the end of the third/beginning of the fourth quarter for the only points Saline (3-1, 1-1 SEC Red) would score. Hammond also caught five passes for 108 yards.
Pioneer was able to march into Saline territory on both of its first two offensive possessions, once making it inside the red zone, but both times the Saline defense came forced fumbles and kept Pioneer off of the scoreboard.
The Pioneer offense did cash in on one of its trip into Saline territory when Davis scored at the 9:03 mark of the the second quarter.
Saline’s offense made one trip inside of Pioneer territory in the first half, but had nothing to show for it despite first-and-goal on the 6-yard-line, as Pioneer’s defense held strong and forced a turnover on downs.
Pioneer's self-destructive tendencies on offense persisted in the second half, with interceptions on its only two pass attempts, one by quarterback Aedan York and another by Thomas on a halfback pass.
York said the play of the defense helped the offensive players keep their heads up.
"The defenders just came up to me and said, ‘I gotchu. I got you, we’re not letting them in,'" York said. "It’s amazing, when you make a bad play and getting down on yourself to look on the field and see the defense is coming up with a fourth down stop on the goal-line."
Palka completed 15-of-29 passes for 194 yards, but was kept out of the end zone and held to -5 rushing yards on 11 attempts.
"I thought that that would be one of the best defenses we would see all year and they certainly lived up to its expectation,” said Saline coach Joe Palka, Tyler's father. "We knew it would be a dogfight and I don’t think it was anything different than what anybody anticipated."
Test was quick to credit his co-defensive coordinators for limiting a Saline offense which had scored 27, 49 and 58 points in its first three wins.
"Vince Wortman and Jerrard Harrison are doing a great job. I’m real proud of them," Test said. "They’re co-d-coordinators and they’re doing a great job."
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