Saline’s conference win streak, which dates back to 2013, seemed in jeopardy Friday night at the hands of Ann Arbor Huron once again.
Nearly ten months after Huron almost upset the Hornets in the district semifinal, the River Rats and Saline were tied with less than 9 minutes remaining and Huron seemed on the cusp of victory after recovering a Saline fumble.
Saline (2-0, 1-0 SEC Red) flipped the script with two passing touchdowns from quarterback C.J. Carr in the final 6:36, combined with two fatal Huron mistakes – a muffed kickoff and a botched snap – to hand the River Rats (1-1, 0-1 SEC Red) their first loss of the season, 35-21.
When asked what he felt was the game’s turning point, Huron Coach Antaiwn Mack thrice repeated two words: Mental mistakes. Mental mistakes. Mental mistakes.
“We can’t make mental mistakes like this on a championship-caliber football team that we faced tonight,” Mack said. “We have to go back on our end and continue to coach the kids, mentor the kids, prepare them and talk to them about discipline. Mental mistakes killed us at the end of the game and that’s why they [Saline] were taking a knee up 14.”
It certainly didn’t appear that Saline would kneel out the clock up two scores when Huron’s Jamil Thomas recovered a Saline fumble, ending Saline’s drive at the River Rat 1-yard line in the game’s final 10 minutes, with the score tied at 21.
Huron quarterback Anthony Pinnace almost sent the Rats’ faithful into a frenzy when he nearly scored the go-ahead touchdown on a long run, but was ruled out-of-bounds. Huron’s drive stalled three plays later after a holding penalty and a third-down sack by Saline defensive lineman Ian Gifford.
Saline got the ball back in Huron territory, and four plays later, took the lead when Carr found Gavin Mesman wide-open in the end zone.
Instead of getting the ball down seven, Saline stole a possession when Huron muffed the ensuing kickoff. Huron had a golden chance to stop the Hornets on a fourth-and-10 outside Saline’s field-goal range, but Saline receiver Roman Laurio made a spectacular leaping catch in the corner of the end zone, pushing the Hornet lead to 35-21 with 3:31 remaining.
Any chance of a Huron comeback evaporated into the night when Saline recovered a fumbled snap on Huron’s final drive.
A mere two years ago, the prospect of Huron pushing Saline to the wire in the fourth quarter would have seemed laughable. In 2021, Mack wasn’t dubbing the game a moral victory for the Rats.
“We took a loss to a good football team,” he said. “We played them hard, but our program is past the point of priding ourselves on moral victories. We have to go back to the drawing board as a coaching staff.”
Pinnace’s dual-threat abilities were on full display Friday night, giving Saline problems defensively. Trailing 7-0 midway in the second quarter, he set the Rats up goal-to-go with a 20-yard completion to Brandon Johnson and two runs totaling 20 yards. On fourth-and-goal from the Saline 2-yard line, he avoided a sack and delivered a strike to Davis Hugan for Pinnace’s first of three total touchdowns.
Saline answered with a 1-yard touchdown run from Ryan Niethammer, his second of the game, but Pinnace engineered an 11 play, 65-yard scoring drive that saw him run for 21 yards, scramble for 10 after avoiding a sack on third down, and finish the possession with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Johnson with 9 seconds remaining in the first half. Adam Samaha’s extra point tied the game 14-14 at halftime.
Pinnace totaled 245 yards for the game, with 123 yards on the ground and 122 coming through the air.
“Anthony’s [Pinnace] hands-down one of the best athletes in the state of Michigan,” Mack said. “He’s very talented, and can definitely help us. We have to continue to grow around him and help him take the necessary strides.”
Pinnace scored his third touchdown of the game on a 3-yard run with 2:04 remaining in the third quarter, knotting the score at 21.
Huron hosts crosstown-rival Pioneer (0-2) at 7 p.m., Friday.
The Pioneer football team protested Friday night’s scheduled game against Temperance Bedford after an alleged racial incident occurred during Thursday night’s junior varsity game. Bedford school officials, along with administrative officials from Pioneer, were looking into the allegations that Bedford JV players used racial slurs during the game.
Pioneer players and coaches decided not to play Friday night’s game with visiting Bedford. The MHSAA has ruled the game a forfeit.
The Pioneers lost their season opener 37-14 against Anchor Bay under new coach Jimmy Williams.