Cass Tech's Weber poses Herculean task for stout Saline
The defense that hopes to knock out Detroit Cass Tech and running back Mike Weber from the Division 1 semifinals is a lean, mean fighting machine.
The men from Saline High School don't look intimidating. They give up big yards early in games and adjust later to shut teams down. They are not scared and they come fully prepared to face Weber who rushed for 404 yards as Cass Tech (12-0) eliminated Chippewa Valley 48-35 in the regional finals.
"Everybody knows who Mike Weber is," outside linebacker Chris Terech said.
"No Joe Schmo is going to rush for 400 yards at this point of the season," said inside linebacker Grant Ellis, "especially against teams at this point of the season."
This is finals week at Saline and between study sessions players got a good look at Weber on video. They are impressed but ready for the test. Kickoff is 1 p.m. Saturday at Troy Athens High School.
Saline got its first look at Weber during his sophomore season in the state playoffs. Quarterback Jayru Campbell was ill in that game and Cass decided to line up and let Weber do his thing. Cass beat Saline 21-14 on its way to a state title and Weber's physical play won out.
He was a relative unknown then. Now he is the premier player in the state and Saline is next in line.
"There is no secret scheme," Saline coach Joe Palka said. "It is really a matter of we need to get everybody through to the football. He will run through you. If he gets to the second level (secondary), you have to tackle low."
Saline (11-1) has a great offensive weapon also in quarterback Josh Jackson, who passed for a career high 313 yards and four touchdowns last week. He also rushed for 88 yards on 14 carries and two more scores during Saline's 42-35 victory over Canton.
Here is the problem for Saline: It gave up 379 yards rushing, or about seven yards a carry, against Canton. But Saline made the big play defensively when it needed, as Terech stopped Canton running back Marcus Sanders inches short on a fourth down play.
"We have given up early yards and in the second half adjusted well and played much better," Palka said. "Mike is going to get his yards and we know he is going to have some explosion plays. We have to minimalize them and keep that game close. We can't let him run crazy."
So who are these guys from Saline?
Linebackers Ellis and Terech are leaders of the pack. It's a defense that likes to jump around and show different looks. Brandon Baldus is the man in the middle. He is a 5-foot-11, 260 pound defensive tackle and is the team's biggest player.
Defensive end Tyrone Miller is a jack of all trades and has been a key contributor along with corner Cal Criner, outside linebacker Stephen Slattery and defensive end John Raupp, who is just 5-9 and weighs 160.
One concern is can a smaller perimeter bring Weber down when he turns the corner and lowers his shoulder?
Players say they can.
"I would say we are tenacious," Terech said. "When you see us in warmups, people will think we have no chance. We are mean and we are physical and hopefully people will get a chance to see that. We will never stop fighting."