Saline claims first ever regional title with 42-35 win over Canton
Saline — It was 64 years in the making. But after a 42-35 win over Canton on Friday night, Saline can proclaim itself a MHSAA Regional Champion.
“It’s our first trip to the final four, and our first regional championship in school history,” Saline coach Joe Palka said. “Our kids know we aren’t done. But, they are going to leave an unbelievable legacy here because of tonight.”
The Hornets (11-1) relied on junior quarterback Josh Jackson all night to run the offense, and to make plays when Saline needed it. Jackson didn’t disappoint leading a charge late in the first half to help tie the game.
Down 28-14 with 4:36 left in the half, Saline had to march 81 yards to cut into Canton’s lead. Jackson went 4-for-5 on the drive finding four different receivers until he found senior Chris Mercer for an 8-yard touchdown for a 28-21 score.
Palka then gambled on the ensuing kickoff in hopes to turn the game’s momentum in the Hornets’ favor.
“We had to flip the momentum, and to get points off that onside kick was huge,” he said.
“I didn’t think we’d have to play from behind after that (decision). So to get points off that was definitely a turning point.”
Saline marched right down the field in seven plays before Jackson ran a 4-yard quarterback draw to tie the game at 28-28 with 48 seconds left in the half.
The onside was also the spark that helped Saline take its first lead of the game. The Hornets received the ball to start the second half, and Canton tried an onside kick of their own, but Saline recovered it and worked with a short field again.
Jackson went 3-for-3 hitting senior Cameron Cole over the middle for a 33-yard touchdown to give Saline its first lead of the game 35-28 with 9:00 left in the third quarter.
“We knew we had to score on every possession. My receivers helped me out tremendously. We played together, and came out on top,” Jackson said.
Canton though wasn’t down and out, and rallied to tie the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter after forcing a three-and-out where Saline had to punt from its own end zone.
The Chiefs (9-3) went to the air to tie the game, 35-35, on a 15-yard touchdown pass from senior Greg Williams to fellow senior Nolan Gilo.
Jackson, who finished the game 27-of-32 for 319 yards and four touchdowns, showcased his versatility, and poise on the game winning drive, which he extended on fourth down with an 8-yard completion.
“I looked to the sidelines before that play, and found my dad (Michigan coach Fred Jackson). He always reminds me ‘C.U.P’ (cool under pressure). When it comes to those plays, we had to convert and I knew I had to make it happen,” Jackson said.
Two plays later Jackson scrambled for an 18-yard touchdown run that would serve as the game winner, 42-35, to complete his six touchdown (four passing, two rushing) day with 7:52 left in the fourth quarter.
“He had a coming out party tonight. He played unbelievable. We saw signs of it all year, and tonight was his time. He delivered the championship trophy for us,” Palka said.
Palka’s son junior Jeb was one of Jackson’s favorite targets. Palka had 10 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. Mercer finished the game with four catches for 38 yards and two touchdowns for the Hornets.
Canton started the game hot with grabbing a 21-7 lead with two touchdowns from Marcus Sanders, 18 carries for 184 yards, and one from senior Chuck Turfe, 13 carries 49 yards.
Saline now waits the winner of Detroit Cass Tech and Chippewa Valley who play Saturday at 1:00 p.m.
No matter who the opponent is, Jackson says Saline will be ready.
“We want to be state champs,” he said.
“We’re the best team ever here at Saline. That’s our legacy, but we’re not done. We know we have good teams ahead of us, and we’re going to prepare ourselves accordingly.”
Highlights from this game will be aired on the State Champs! High School Sports Show on Sunday at 9 am and 10 pm on Fox Sports Detroit