Saline – — Josh Jackson played the game of his life on the coldest night of the football season to lead Saline to its first regional championship with a 42-35 comeback win over Canton in Division 1 playoff game Friday night.
Jackson, the son of Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson, had a hand in all six of his team's TDs. He completed 27-of-32 passes for 319 yards and four TDs and rushed 10 times for 70 yards and two more scores, including an 18-yarder with 7:52 left for the difference.
"We just knew it was going to be a high-scoring game and that we had to score on every position," Jackson said. "This was my best game, definitely the biggest game I've played in. It was a great game. The line blocked great, gave me enough time to deliver the ball and the receivers did a great job of catching the ball."
Jackson got a hug from his father, in the stands with Michigan having a bye week.
Saline (11-1) took advantage of onside kicks, recovering one of its own late in the first half for a TD and then recovering Canton's onside kick to start the second half, turning it into a score, as well.
Saline's defense also came up big, stopping a Canton drive in the third quarter at the Saline 5, then stopping Marcus Sanders on a fourth-and-1 at the Saline 20 with two minutes left in the game.
Sanders, a sophomore, finished with 184 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries for Canton (9-3), ending his season with 2,000 yards. Brian Newton added 111 yards for Canton, which totaled 387.
Still, the hero was Jackson.
"He had a coming out party tonight," Saline coach Joe Palka said.
"It was unbelievable, so I'm extremely excited for him. He just made play after play in pressure situations."
Palka has used both quarterbacks on the team's first two drives all season before making a decision on whom he uses the rest of the game.
Jackson completed 6 of 7 for 64 yards on Saline's opening series, capped off with a 6-yard TD toss to Chris Mercer to pull even at 7 after Canton took the opening kickoff and scored on a 65-yard drive with Newton breaking loose for a 33-yard TD run.
Canton's strong running game continued when Charles Turfe scored on a 1-yard run after Sanders picked up 26 yards to Saline's 1 on a third-and-7 play.
Palka then went with quarterback Trent Theisen, who had a short field to work with after a long kickoff return to Canton's 39. However, Theisen misfired on two passes, sending the ball back to Canton.
And, Canton's running game couldn't be stopped with Sanders busting up the middle for a 49-yard TD run to open up a 21-7 cushion in the final minute of the first quarter, giving Canton 181 rushing yards on just 16 carries at the time.
Palka sent Jackson back out and he delivered, completing all four of his passes, including a 23-yard TD pass to Kevin Gross to pull within 21-14.
Canton continued to put on a show on the ground. Sanders scored on a 32-yard run for a 28-14 lead with 4:36 left in the half.
Jackson returned and picked apart Canton's defense, hitting on 4 of 5 passes for 44 yards with his 8-yard bullet to Mercer in the left corner of the end zone cutting the deficit to 28-21 with 2:05 left.
Then, Palka gambled and went with the onside kick and Saline recovered to give Jackson a short field to work with. He again was 4-of-5 on the drive and ended it with a 4-yard TD run to pull even with 44 seconds left in the half.
"To be able to kick it today and get points off of that was huge," Palka said. "We had to flip the momentum. I didn't think we'd keep playing from behind like that so once we did that and were able to get points off of it, I think it was a turning point."
Canton coach Tim Baechler agreed, saying: "We told them it was coming and we had kids that have good hands that are up on that frontline and we just didn't make the play and it was big. I didn't know that they could throw it and catch it that well. I knew that they were good at it, but they were great at it.
"Their quarterback was something else. Unbelievable, so accurate."
Jeb Palka, Joe's son, had 10 receptions and Cameron Cole had eight.
Saline will play the winner of the Detroit Cass Tech-Clinton Township Chippewa Valley game in a Division 1 semifinal next Saturday.