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Football semifinals: Saline upends Cass Tech

By Geoff Robinson
Special to The Detroit News

Troy — After a controversial decision by the referees took a touchdown off the scoreboard, Saline is heading to its first-ever state championship thanks to a 30-15 victory over Detroit Cass Tech in Saturday's Division 1 semifinal.

Saline (12-1) will face Clarkston (13-0) in the Division 1 championship game at 1 p.m. next Saturday at Ford Field.

With just over five minutes remaining, Cass Tech (12-1) cut a 16-point deficit down to eight due to an 8-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Rodney Hall to Demetric Vance and a two-point conversion by star running back Mike Weber.

On the ensuing kickoff, with its regular return man on the sidelines, Saline running back Kevin Gross let the ball squib by him as it headed towards the end zone. When the ball stopped dead at the 1-yard-line, Gross bent down to pick it up as Cass Tech players came flying towards the live ball.

Cass Tech recovered in the end zone thanks to the momentum of the players running towards the ball. The referee signaled touchdown, and it appeared Cass Tech had managed to score 14 points with just one second coming off the clock.

With the ball spotted and trailing by two, Cass Tech lined up to take its shot at tying the game when the refs blew their whistle, came together, and reversed the call on the field, saying that the play was now a touchback.

Saline drove the length of the field, took all but 38 seconds off the clock and scored a touchdown on a 7-yard run by Gross, sealing the fate of the game.

"I was terrified," Gross said of the almost-error he made on the kickoff. "I thought it was going to be five yards deep in the end zone, but thankfully we got the right call. I was feeling kind of angry at myself, so I turned it up a little bit and ran as hard as I could to make up for it."

Cass Tech coach Thomas Welcher was admittedly unhappy with how the last few minutes of the game unfolded.

"It's just terrible how the refs took the game," he said. "You don't reverse calls in high school. That's the rule. Once you make a decision, put your hands up in the air and signal touchdown, it's a touchdown."

Cass Tech jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the second quarter on the back of Weber's 1-yard score. Weber, a Michigan commit, carried the ball nine times on that possession for 41 yards. He finished the day with 38 carries for 136 yards.

Saline was able to tie it up at when it drove 69 yards on six plays and got a 7-yard touchdown from Jeb Palka.

After adding a 34-yard field goal from William Breen just before halftime thanks to a botched punt snap by Cass Tech, Saline was given a huge boost when Tyrone Miller took the opening kickoff of the second half 79-yards to stretch the lead to 17-7.

Early in the fourth quarter, still trailing 17-7, Hall scampered into the end zone for what appeared to be a touchdown on fourth-and-2 from 14-yards out. But the play was called back because of a holding penalty. On the next play, Saline linebacker Stephen Slattery intercepted Hall on fourth-and-7 and took it 80-yards for a touchdown to give his team a 23-7 lead.

"We didn't know who was going to make plays, but today it was our defense and special teams," Saline coach Joe Palka said. "We couldn't have played any better. We struggled a bit offensively, but you get this far in the year and other facets have to step up. We saw that today."

"It hasn't fully set it yet," Gross said of being the first team in school history to make the state title game.

"I can just tell the boys are ecstatic. I'm so happy to be playing past Thanksgiving."

After the game Weber tweeted his decommittment to Michigan.

"I'm decommiting from from the University of Michigan thank you Michigan for the love and support I'll remake my decision at the army bowl," the tweet said.