By: Seth Kinker, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Saline Hornets (10-1) dominated the East Kentwood Falcons (9-2), 42-7 on the way to a division one district title on Nov. 3 at Hornet Stadium.
The two teams combined for seven turnovers, the Hornets with four and the Falcons with three. The difference was, the Hornets took advantage of their opportunities.
The Falcons had size and speed, including three players on the list of top 50 prospects in Michigan rated by 247sports.com. One being Wisconsin commit, and the number one ranked player in Michigan, senior offensive lineman Logan Brown.
At halftime, the Hornets led 14-7 with the teams combining for three turnovers. The Hornets broke the game open with a 21-point third quarter and started the running clock with an early fourth quarter score.
The Hornets were moving the ball early after starting the game on their own 11-yard line. The Hornets used their speed throughout the game, putting the ball in their playmaker’s hands with different motion sets and quick passes.
After moving the ball into Falcon territory, the Hornets fumbled the ball after making a catch and fighting for extra yardage.
The Falcons scored three plays later, a 77-yard screen pass from Falcon senior quarterback Kyle Dent to senior running back Kionte Blakely to make it 7-0 with 8:50 on the clock.
Blakely finished with 154 yards on 19 attempts to lead the rushing attack, he was also the lead receiver with one catch for 77 yards and the touchdown.
Griffin returned the following kickoff to Falcon territory and the Hornets would strike quick, too. Two plays later, Hornet senior quarterback Andrew Arbaugh faked a handoff on second and short, finding senior wide receiver Brendan Murphy down the seam wide open for a 39-yard catch and run to tie the game with 8:23.
“We were talking to each other last night, texting, and said ‘let’s not let tomorrow be the last time we play football together,’” said Arbaugh. “We’ve been going since middle school, ‘let’s not let tomorrow be the last day’. He’s my guy, I know I can rely on him.”
Murphy led all receivers with eight catches for 187 yards and three touchdowns.
A Hornet pick on a second and long gave the Falcons the ball at midfield, but the Hornet defense only drove them back to get the ball back.
The Hornets scored on a 92-yard drive capped off by a 28-yard pass from Arbaugh to Murphy. The Falcons had the coverage, they even tipped it. But they tipped it right into Murphy’s hands who caught it at the five and took it in for the 14-7 lead with 6:15 in the half.
Arbaugh finished the day 16-21 for 287 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception.
“We knew they had a solid defensive line,” said Arbaugh. “But I felt like I had all the time in the world to throw, it felt great. Our offensive line stepped up. We never doubted our line for a second, we know they come in every week working hard and getting better. I had all the confidence in the world in those guys.”
Before the half, Griffin had a huge sequence for the Hornets. He caught Blakely from behind on a run from the Falcon 33-yard line that would have scored. Griffin read the angle and caught Blakely from behind at the Hornet 10-yard line. After the defense held, forcing a Falcon field goal attempt, Griffin was the one to block it.
“I expected him to break out,” said Griffin on the long chase down. “We’ve been going over that play for weeks so we learned how to shut that down. I don’t know how, he just got around, so I just took the right angle and ran down the field to get him as fast as I could.”
“We had been watching film all week, how they line up,” added Griffin on the blocked field goal, “They line up straight, not cocked to the side. So, I knew I had a free chance to go ahead. I left my feet to get that ball and that’s what I did.”
The Hornets would fumble once more on a catch and run attempt for extra yardage, but the Falcon offense was once against stopped by the Hornet defense.
At halftime, the message from Hornet head coach Joe Palka and the staff was simple. Mistakes were made but they were in the past. Focus up and play their game in the second half.
The Hornets broke the game open in the third quarter, outscoring the Falcons 21-0 to take a commanding 35-7 lead.
On the first Falcon drive of the second half, Hornet junior linebacker Alex Morrison had a fumble recovery on a Blakely fumble in Falcon territory.
The Hornets would give it right back, a fumble on the Falcon three-yard line. But the Hornets would come out on top of that crazy sequence. After the Hornet defense made it third and thirteen, Morrison picked it off and ran it in for the touchdown with 8:11.
“ I just dropped back into my zone,” said Morrison on the pick. “The defensive line got some pressure, the secondary covered well behind me. The ball was basically right to me.”
— Seth Kinker (@SethKinker) November 3, 2018
Smelling blood, the Hornets attempted a pooch kick and recovered at the Falcon 24-yard line. That drive was capped off by a Munday 4-yard touchdown run with 5:13 remaining to make it 28-7.
“Alex Morrison, on that first pick, that set the tone,” said Griffin. “When we recovered the pooch kick, we knew that we had to keep it going.”
“When you flip a possession in the kicking game and you get a defensive touchdown, I’ll be honest those are game breakers,” said Palka. “We’ve had it happen to us too, we were fortunate to be on the right side of it. We haven’t had many since I’ve been here. They’re fun to get, and they’re fun to get in the playoffs.”
Munday finished with 86 yards to lead the rushing attack for the Hornets and a touchdown.
— Seth Kinker (@SethKinker) November 3, 2018
“Their defensive line is exceptional,” said Hornet head coach Joe Palka on the success of the run game and Munday. “Munday made some great cuts. We had some things blocked, even when we didn’t, he seems to make the appropriate cut like on his touchdown. We were giving them enough formation wise and also being able to do some things to flip where their three-technique was their one technique. It helped us out. We tried to stay one step ahead to give us an advantage.”
On the next Falcon drive, they only went backward again, ending that drive facing a fourth and nineteen. The Hornets got the ball back on their own 14-yard line and took it the 86-yards, capped off by a 44-yard Arbaugh to Murphy pass. Once again heavily covered, Murphy slipped behind his man and the pass from Arbaugh was perfect.
The Hornets would wrap up the scoring with 10:31 remaining in the game, another interception returned for a touchdown by Morrison.
The Hornets outgained the Falcons 453-260 and held an advantage in just about every other statistical category.
Defensively, the Hornets were led by senior defensive lineman Jonah Ashby with 7.5 tackles, senior Zach Sabin added four more and Morrison finished with 3.5 tackles and two picks
Next Saturday, the Hornets will host the Rockford Rams, who they lost to in their 2017 season opener at the Big House, 14-0.
“Rockford always gives us problems,” said Palka. “(They’re) well sized well coached, run a wing T or straight T offense that will possess the ball. They’re always more athletic than people want to give them credit for. They were the team, besides Brighton, that hung closet to East Kentwood. They’re playing well right now. It’ll be a heck of a challenge.”
“We always just say ‘let’s get better every week and play our best football at the end of the year,’ and that’s how over the past seven years. That’s what we’ve been able to do,” said Palka when asked about his thoughts on this post season run. “When you get to this point, some of it is your draw, some is luck, and some is injuries. You have to be fortunate and play your best football. Fortunately, we are. This team has exceeded my expectations, but I said that in week five. So here we are.”