When both teams seem to be able to score at will, at some point the game has to have a decisive turning point.
In Friday night’s Division 1 regional final at Saline (Mich.), Cass Tech (Detroit) defensive back Willie Reid stepped in front of a fourth-and-11 pass attempt to Hornets star tight end Bryce Wolma, breaking it up and stopping Saline’s final drive with less than 5 minutes remaining.
The Technicians killed the clock the rest of the way for a 43-42 win to advance to their seventh straight state semifinal.
“It was a tremendous game on both sides of the ball, and it was our first real test of the season. We fought hard, and we didn’t give up,” said Cass Tech quarterback Rodney Hall, who finished with two touchdowns and 107 yards rushing.
While Hall orchestrated Cass Tech’s drives, running back Donovan Johnson was the horse, carrying the ball for 285 yards on 13 carries and scoring four touchdowns.
Saline running back Connor Hibbard was equally outstanding with 241 yards rushing and five touchdowns in his final prep game.
Hall got things started on the Technicians’ first possession when he fumbled the snap, then on the broken play ran an improvised 55 yards for the first touchdown less than 2 minutes in to give an early indication of the wild contest about to unfold.
Saline scored a matching touchdown on a 41-yard run by quarterback Zach Schwartzenberger when he faked the handoff and ran up the middle untouched to tie the game at 7-7.
Cass Tech was forced to punt, but a bad snap gave the Hornets the ball on the Cass Tech 44. Less than 3 minutes later, the Hornets scored on Hibbard’s 1-yard run for a 14-7 edge.
Just three plays later, Johnson scored the first of his four touchdowns on a 47-yard run.
On the ensuing possession, Hibbard turned what should have been little gain into a 58-yard touchdown run, giving Saline the lead again, 21-14, with time still on the clock in the first quarter.
Soon after it was Cass Tech’s turn again. Johnson picked up a fumbled pitch from Hall and runs 9 yards for a TD, tied score 21-21. Hibbard soon scored his third touchdown on a 30-yard run up the middle, untouched in the Cass Tech backfield, giving the Hornets a 28-21 lead. 4:22 left in first half.
Johnson later avoided several defenders and goes 80 yards down the right sideline for a TD, his third of the game, to tie it again at 28-28.
On the first play of the second half, Johnson ran 72 yards for a score before Hibbard answered with a 7-yard TD run. Saline then pulled some trickery to recover an onside kick, leading to Hibbard scoring his final TD on a 1-yard run with 1:48 left in the third to give Saline a 42-35 edge. The winning play was Hall’s 2-point conversion pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones following a 3-yard TD run by Hall.