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, Cass Tech 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.
“I’m just glad we keep making it back to the state semifinals,” Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher said. “It’s just a great treat to have this opportunity especially with a team that fights hard and works hard, they just play.”
Saline running back Connor Hibbard was equally outstanding with 241 yards rushing and five touchdowns in his final prep game.
►Related: More scores from Friday night
Both teams scored four touchdowns apiece in the first half for a 28-28 tie at the break.
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.
“Seven straight years (reaching semifinals) is great to do it, but the most important thing is trying to make it to the state finals right now. This team right here is trying to reach Ford Field, to take that walk again, that’s what it’s all about,” Wilcher said.
More regional finals
Birmingham Groves 44, Grosse Pointe South 10: Ernest Allen had 137 yards rushing and a touchdown for Groves (11-1). Collin Heard added 99 yards and three touchdowns on 10 carries. Nate Wagner led the defense with seven tackles, while Jake Vanolli had three tackles and an interception. For Grosse Pointe (8-4), Logan Mico threw a touchdown pass to Jhordan Rush for their lone touchdown.
Millington 22, Detroit Central Collegiate 20: Jared Roehl led Millington with 93 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, as well as adding nine tackles on defense. Brady Payne rushed 19 times for 130 yards and one touchdown.
Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 35, DeWitt 28: RaShawn Allen totaled 36 carries for 186 yards and three touchdowns. Caden Prieskorn completed 12 of 21 passes for 135 yards and two touchdown passes. DeWitt finishes the season at 10-2. St. Mary’s will play Dearborn Divine Child next Saturday at 1 p.m.