Saline Knocks Out Cass Tech in D1 Heavyweight Semi-Final, 30-15

Written by
Jeff Corrion

It's the game on the bracket everyone in state looks forward to when the brackets are released in October. The right side of the Division 1 bracket normally has 4 teams who can win a state title, all 4 district champions have a legit chance of reaching the state finals and today at Troy Athens it was the top 2 remaining teams left standing.

Saline and Cass Tech entered this Heavyweight battle with as much momentum as possible, Cass Tech defeated Chippewa Valley and Saline defeated Canton the previous week. Cass Tech entered the game on a perfect 12-0 streak and Saline had won their previous 11 games after losing their opening game vs. Mona Shores.

For The D Zone's preseason rankings, both Cass Tech and Saline were highly thought of. Cass Tech was ranked #3 and Saline was #4. Both teams more than proved their rankings leading up to this battle.

To start the game it was Saline who immediately made their intentions of what they would do to the previously committed Michigan RB, Mike Weber who tore through Chippewa Valley the previous week for 404 yards and 5 touchdowns. Saline quickly forced a 3 and out, stopping Weber in hordes of Hornets and the punt was muffed and Saline took over at the Cass Tech 30 yard line. Cass replied back with their stout defense forcing a 3 and out and a 35 yard field goal with the wind was blocked.

The 1st quarter would be back and forth as would the 2nd quarter, until Cass Tech put together a drive fueled by runs by 2015 RB Mike Weber and 2017 QB Rodney Hall. Cass Tech nearly punched it when Mike Weber ran to his right but he jumped over the pylon and was ruled down at the 1 yard line. Saline appeared to stuff him on the next play but Weber rolled to his right at the goal line for the 1 yard TD to make the score 7-0 with 4:05 left in the half.

Like a true heavyweight fight, Saline would return the punch. Aided by some pinpoint throws by 2016 QB Josh Jackson, Saline quickly got up field as they went through the wind down to the 6 yard line when 2016 WR Jeb Palka took a sweep to the left from 6 yards and cruised into the end zone, the PAT was good and just like that was a 7-7 game.

It would not last that long though as Cass Tech was quickly forced to punt, following a high snap on 3rd down that Hall had to fall on, the snap was low and Saline would get the ball in the red zone. They couldn't translate the momentum into a touchdown but a 35 yard field goal by William Breen gave Saline the 10-7 edge with 37 seconds left in the half.

Cass Tech got into Saline territory, aided by a pass interference but the half ended on a screen pass to Mike Weber, he was slow to get up but would be fine.

Saline would start the 2nd half with the ball and 2015 DB Tyrone Miller fielded the kickoff, burst upfield and cruised through the Cass Tech coverage team to give Saline a huge 17-7 lead. Before people could sit down they were in awe at how fast Miller got up field and towards the left sideline.

Saline would come up with another huge stop on Weber and Cass Tech as they pushed him out of bounds a yard shy of the marker on 4th down. The previous play was a 4 yard loss thanks to a tackle by Grant Ellis as soon as Weber reached the corner. Saline would look to add more as the 3rd quarter ended but Jackson's pass would be picked off by 2015 DB Keshawn Gilmore.

Cass Tech would quickly put theirself in a good position thanks to a diving catch by Dwight Blakey and an 18 yard run by Rodney Hall. Cass Tech appeared to have cut the deficit but a holding call negated a 14 yard touchdown run by Hall and that was followed by a holding on Saline on the next play. On 4th and 7 following a timeout, Hall was intercepted by 2015 OLB Stephen Slattery on an attempted screen pass. Slattery snuck underneath the play, as Hall didn't see him and Slattery returned it 79 yards for a touchdown. The PAT snap was bad and the score would hold at 23-7 with 9:31 left.

Just as quickly as Saline had Cass Tech 6 feet deep, Cass Tech turned the tables with a 55 yard heave by Rodney Hall that Blakey got behind the defense as he was falling backwards, to give Cass Tech new life. With 5:35 remaining, Hall bought time and found an open 2016 WR Demetric Vance open in the back of the end zone for an 8 yard touchdown. Mike Weber added the 2 point conversion to cut the deficit to 23-15.

Cass Tech nearly flipped the tables completely on Saline when the kickoff was bouncing towards the end zone when a Saline player touched the ball at the goal line and was hit into the end zone. Cass Tech recovered the ball. It was initially ruled a touchdown but a calm, Coach Joe Palka on the Saline sideline echoed the rule to the sideline referee, who went in to have a discussion with the other referees before it was ruled a touchback.

According to the National Federation of State High School Association which is the body that writes the rules of competition for most high school sports and activities in the United States. It was a touchback for this reason as published in the rule book, "It is a touchback when: A fumble is the force, or a muff or bat of a backward pass or a fumble after either has touched the ground is the new force, which sends the ball to or across the opponent's goal line and provided such opponent is in team possession or the ball is out of bounds when it becomes dead on or behind its goal line."

Saline about wrapped up the game a few players later on their own 40 yard line, Jackson dropped back and found a well covered 2015 WR Cameron Cole but he broke loose from the tacklers before getting tackled at the 15 yard line. From there it was a few plays later before 2015 RB Kevin Gross fought his way in for a tough 8 yard touchdown run with 38.5 seconds left to extend the lead to 30-15 and send Saline on their way to their first state championship appearance.

Saline will meet Clarkston at 1pm on Saturday, 11/29.

Mike Weber had 40 carries this week and was held under 150 yards and after having 32 carries the previous week for over 400 yards. It was simple, the Saline defense was extremely zeroed in on Weber and schemed to perfection, hardily was Weber one on one with a defender. When he was one on one, he was hit squarely and tackled. Otherwise there were always 2+ plus Saline defenders on Weber. The two people responsible for this was 2015 LB's Chris Terech and Grant Ellis. Terech was visibly vocal all day long, leading the Saline defense, pre-snap.

Both Offensive Line's were phenomenal as the QB's for the most part were pretty well protected and picked their time to throw.

Both young QB's did all they could to lead their team to wins. Josh Jackson made all the throws and had few rushing yards but still was able seemingly gain positive yards. Cass Tech 2017 QB Rodney Hall was an absolute nightmare for Saline's defense rushing the ball but had limited carries so wasn't the difference. Hall is slippery in the pocket, escaping all pressure before getting up field. The Sophomore QB will continue to improve, arm strength and mechanics will be much better as a Junior.

Photos from the game

Videos from the game

Graduation Year
  • RB