Detroit — Clinton Township Chippewa Valley coach Scott Merchant couldn’t have asked for a better performance from his quarterback Josh Kulka in the season opener Thursday night in the Xenith Prep Kickoff Classic at Wayne State University’s Adams Field.
Kulka, a 6-foot-2 senior, has the tough job of taking over at quarterback for three-year starter Tommy Schuster, who led Chippewa Valley to a 14-0 record and the Division 1 state championship last year.
All Kulka did was complete 10 of 11 passes for 132 yards in the opening half to set the tempo, helping lead No. 10 Chippewa Valley to a 35-21 win over No. 18 Saline.
“You never know, it’s his first start,” Merchant said of Kulka. “He played really well in our scrimmage, and we had great competition in our scrimmage with (Warren) De La Salle, (Detroit) King and (Rochester) Adams. Practice was kind of up in the air and then he came out tonight and hit a home run.”
Kulka was at his best during Chippewa Valley’s final drive of the half when he found Quillen Howze for 16 yards on a third-and-11 play. He then lobbed a perfectly thrown ball down the right sideline to Corey Anderson II for 34 yards to the Saline 32.
“I was just kind of doing what the coaches said to do,” Kulka said. “I think a lot of the screen checks (worked). We just checked to the screen, the uncovered guys, just get it to our receivers and let them do their stuff. They are really great athletes and they can make a man miss.”
Then Chippewa Valley’s physical running back Myren Harris went to work, busting loose for runs of 19 and seven yards to set up Antwaine Gunter’s 7-yard touchdown run with 46 seconds left in the half.
Harris, playing behind an experienced offensive line which returned four of five starters, finished with 155 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. Kulka was 12 of 13 passing for 147 yards.
The teams came out ready to play with Saline’s Cade Gilless breaking a tackle at the line of scrimmage on the opening drive near the 33, then running 67 yards down the left sideline for a 7-0 lead.
But Chippewa Valley quickly answered when Carde Johnson picked up the ensuing kickoff and returned it 78 yards for a touchdown to pull his team even before the game was two minutes old.
Harris showed his ability in the opening quarter when he rushed for 48 yards on five carries, including runs of 27 and 10 yards, and sparked one drive that ended with Gunter’s first touchdown on a 1-yard run with 1:17 left in the first quarter for a 14-7 lead.
Chippewa Valley took advantage of Myles Harris’ 40-yard kickoff return to start the second half and his twin, Myren, went on to score on a 15-yard run for a 28-7 cushion.
Saline had its chances to get back in the game when quarterback Anthony Ferrari scrambled for runs of 16 and 18, but he was then stripped by Howze at the Chippewa Valley 41 and linebacker Devarius McGraw recovered.
On Saline’s next drive, Ferrari’s perfectly thrown ball to a wide open receiver down the left sideline was dropped.
But Ferrari showed his poise when he regrouped and found Nathan Holmberg for 25 yards to set up an 8-yard touchdown run by Gilless with 3:41 left in the third to pull Saline within 28-14.
Harris scored his second touchdown on a 2-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
Gilless finished with 93 yards on eight carries, but was banged up early in the fourth quarter and limped to the bench.
Saline backup quarterback Larry Robinson hit Kolton Malinczak with a 24-yard touchdown pass with 1:19 left.