Saline opens up the 2015 season with 37-24 win over Rockford
Saline — There is a tremendous amount of pressure surrounding Hornet stadium after last year’s squad reached the first MHSAA Division 1 State Championship game.
Saline coach Joe Palka wanted to test his Hornets with a traditional state power Rockford to find out what kind of team he had, and if they’d continue last year’s legacy.
"Two strong programs to open the season is what you always look for when you create a schedule. We lost a lot of guys from last year’s team. Playing well like we did in the season opener, gives our young guys a lot of confidence,” he said.
“It also tells us our expectations for the program are strong. Our kids want to continue that legacy.”
The 2015 season is off to an impressive start.
The Hornets controlled every facet of the game on its way to a 37-24 win over the Rams on Friday night.
The night didn’t start the way senior quarterback Josh Jackson would have liked, however.
The Rams (0-1) stopped Saline’s first drive with a 71-yard pick six by senior Tyler Bradfield for Rockford’s only lead of the game, 7-0, with 9:56 left in the first quarter.
“As soon as I threw it, I knew it was going to be a pick,” Jackson said. “(Bradfield) is a great player, and he made a great play.
“You can’t think about interceptions too much. I had to shake it off, and get it out of my mind. We had the entire game to get better. We had to come out and make the next drive count.”
The Hornets (1-0) came right back with an answer on a gamble on fourth down. With the ball on the Ram 40 yard line, Jackson hit fellow senior Stevie Kise down the seam for a 7-7 tie with 8:19 left in the first quarter.
After settling for a 29-yard field goal with 1:58 left in the first quarter by senior Will Breen, Saline continued to build off its 10-7 lead in the second quarter.
Senior Jeb Palka capped a quick five-play drive with a 51-yard skinny post for a 17-10 lead with 9:22 left in the half for his first touchdown of the season.
Last season, Palka would have been the primary target in the slot. But according to his dad, the balance of this years team will help his team not only secure a lead, but utilize the Hornets’ speed.
“We have balance on offense. Last year we had to rely heavily on Jeb. The way Kise has played is extremely helpful. Those two slot receivers displayed their speed, and Rockford had trouble with it,” Palka, said.
“We knew they could get open.”
On 3rd-and-17 with 3:32 left in the half, that speed helped exploit the seam a second time. Kise ran a short slant, and caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Jackson for a 24-7 lead.
“We’ve worked on our timing all week. I had my timing down with Jeb (Palka) from last year, but Steveie and me had to develop our chemistry. Our offseason work paid off,” Jackson said.
Rockford’s offense trudged down the field in its first possession of the second half with the help of a 40-yard run by Bradfield to put the ball at the Hornet 19 yard line. Penn Stat commit Quin Nordin hit a 32-yard field goal with 5:01 left in the third quarter to cut into Saline’s lead, 24-10.
On the ensuing drive, Jackson would continue to lead the Saline offense in the second half. As Jackson was being chased out of the pocket by a Rockford defender, he flicked a 35-yard pass to Palka who tight roped down the sidelines for a 30-10 lead with 3:11 left in third quarter.
“Josh can’t rest on what he did last year, and he can’t rest on his commitment. There is unfinished business here. This was his best game in two years,” Palak said of the Virginia Tech commit. “He always pushes himself, and that’s what you look for out of a leader and a champion.”
Jeb Palka finished the day with 12 catches for 157 yards and two touchdowns. Kise complimented the offense with 7 catches 153 yards and two touchdowns.
Before Jackson’s day was done in the fourth quarter, he had put Saline up 37-10 with a 15-yard touchdown run with 4:53 left in the fourth quarter. Jackson finished his day 25-for-34 for 357 yards, 4 touchdowns, and carried the ball 12 times for 97 yards and touchdown. His only miscue was his lone interception in the first quarter.
Despite being down late, the Rockford offense wasn’t ready to pack up its bags early. Junior running back Nick Isley scored had an 8-yard touchdown run with 2:43 left in the fourth quarter. Senior Marco Pavano had a 22-yard touchdown catch from back-up quarterback Nate Anderson with eight seconds left in the game.
Even though Saline operated with efficiency, Jackson knows his team has stuff to work on if the team wants to make it back to Ford Field this season.
“We were clicking all game. Really our opening drive was the worst drive all game,” he said. “Other than that, we didn’t have very many bad plays. We didn’t convert many third downs, so that’ll need to get better as the season goes along.
“We want to maintain our legacy, and win a championship. Tonight was the first step.”