Defense leads Saline to semifinal win over Cass Tech, into first ever Division 1 state championship game
TROY, Mich. – There were no MVP trophies handed out today, but if there was one to be given out, it would go to Saline’s defense. The Saline held Cass Tech to their lowest offensive output since 2012, in a 30-15 win, to advance to the Division 1 state final next weekend.
The win was obviously special for the Hornets. One, for avenging a 2012 loss to Cass Tech (12-1) in the state playoffs, and two, because the win allowed them to make their first appearance ever in a state title game.
"Our defense is always overmatch physically, but they just continued to fight and play hard," said Saline head coach Joe Palka. "We did a great job with our schemes and preparations, and hats off to Ron Shiels, and our defensive staff.
"They faced just about every offense there is out here, and except for one game, have been able to shut everybody down."
The elephant in the room was Saline’s defense, was to stop Cass Tech running back Mike Weber, who was fresh off of a 404 yard game last weekend. Weber was still able to go for 131 yards on 40 carries, and one score. But he wasn’t able to break his signature big runs on Saline. His lone score came in the second quarter from a yard out, which gave Cass Tech a 7-0 lead, and it’s only one of the game.
"We all knew we had to get to the ball whenever he (Weber) had it, and play team defense," senior defensive back Tyrone Miller said. "We couldn’t have any poor tackling or anything, because he can break those. He’s a playmaker, and playmakers make plays. We were just better today."
Miller might have sold himself short on that quote, because he’s a playmaker as well, and not only on defense. Already up 10-7 at the half, Miller took the opening kickoff of the second half back 79-yards for a touchdown, that put Saline up 17-7. If anything took the life out of Cass Tech, it was that play from Miller.
"We knew we were up, and we knew we had the momentum on our side, so I just had to make a play," Miller said. "That was the nail in the coffin, and I just want to say that I love my team."
Saline (12-1) extended its lead to 23-7 with 9:31 to go, when Stephen Slattery stepped in front of a Rodney Hall pass, took it 80-yards to the house.
But Cass Tech made things interesting late. After Hall hit Demetric Vance from 8-yards out on a touchdown to make the score 23-15, it appeared that Saline muffed the ensuing kickoff, that Cass Tech recovered in the end zone. The referees initially ruled it a touchdown, that made the score 23-21, pending an attempted two-point conversion by Cass Tech.
The referees eventually reversed the call, giving Saline the touchback, and taking away the points from Cass Tech, with cheers from the Saline crowd.
"That play obviously could have been a game changer, but we thought that was what the issue was, and I’m glad the refs got it right," said Palka. "You get this far in the year, you’re going to need some luck, and I am so proud of my boys right now."
Saline added another score late, on an 8-yard touchdown run by Kevin Gross, that brought the score to 30-15, guaranteeing them a win, and another game. But it only gets tougher for Saline, as they have to face defending champion Clarkston, who defeated East Kentwood 35-13, next Saturday.