Big Second Half Propels Bulldogs to Victory Over Pirates

By: Seth Kinker,

 Last year, the Chelsea Bulldogs hosted the Pinckney Pirates for the first time since 1999, a close contest at home that the Bulldogs won 10-7. Last night, the Bulldogs picked up their second win of the season defeating the Pirates, 31-14.


Pirates Own First Half


The first half of the game belonged to the Pirates as they moved the ball at will against the Bulldog defense.

“I think the physicality we had in the run game early on,” said Pirate head coach Rod Beaton on what worked well offensively early for the Pirates. “We were getting out on blocks and holding our blocks, doing what we needed to do.”

After stopping the Bulldog’s opening drive on a fourth down at their own 30-yard line, the Pirates marched down the field on the following drive.

Pirate junior quarterback Joe Bona found senior wide receiver Evan Walter, who took it to the Bulldog 48-yard line. Another catch by Walter, runs from senior running back Ethan Stinson and junior running back Sal Patierno, and a roughing the passer penalty on the Bulldogs moved the ball to the Bulldog 21-yard line. On the next play, Stinson ran it in for the score to put the Pirates up 7-0 with 3:42 in the first quarter.

The Pirates outrushed the Bulldogs 170-114, averaging 4.5 yards per rush, led by Stinson with 85 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown and Bona, who had 81 yards on 17 carries. Bona stepped up in the pocket when he had to, making the smart decision and finding good chunks of yards throughout the first half.

On the next Bulldog drive, Bulldog senior tight end Nick Christian was key. His first grab was a 13-yard catch that moved the ball to the Pirate 39-yard line. On the next play, Bulldog senior quarterback Quinn Starkey found Christian again, scrambling out of the pocket before finding him wide open as Christian moved the ball to the Pirate 12-yard line. The drive would stall inside the red zone and Bulldog senior Drew Lewis hit a field goal to make it 7-3 still in favor of the Pirates with 10:12 remaining in the half.

After both defenses came up with stops, the Pirates got the ball back with 5:20 remaining in the half after Walter broke up a fourth-down slant pass on their own 4-yard line.

That drive would end when Bona threw a pick to Bulldog sophomore defensive back Joe Taylor who made a nice grab on the sideline. But, on the very next play, Starkey would throw one right back, with Pirate senior defensive back Ryan Hanifan getting the pick. Hanifan returned it to their own 44-yard line.

A second down run from Stinson moved the ball to the Bulldog 32-yard line with 50 seconds left. After another Stinson run and a Bona draw, it was first and goal on the 8-yard line. A short run to the five-yard line brought up second and goal. Bona passed the ball to the flat to senior running back Hunter Hamilton and he bullied his way into the end zone with 10 seconds left in the half and the Pirates took a 14-3 lead into the half.

Bona finished 12-20 for 98 yards and a touchdown, Walter and sophomore Dylan Reason led the wide receivers, both grabbing 4 catches for 38 yards.

Defensively, the Pirates were led by Hamilton with 11 tackles. Walter added 7 and Reason, senior Jacob Price, and junior Drew Pilley all had 5 tackles. Hanifan’s interception was the lone take away for the Pirate defense.

“We weren’t executing,” said Bulldog head coach Josh Lucas on the team’s offensive performance in the first half. “When you run the spread you have to execute. The first drive we didn’t execute on third and one, it cost us on fourth. The other two times we got it down in the red zone and got three points.”


Bulldogs Dominate Second Half


In the second half, it was all Bulldogs. The defense didn’t allow a touchdown and the offense rattled off touchdown drives on all of their second-half possessions to win, 31-14.

“We made some adjustments at halftime, changed some things up front (offensively),” continued Lucas. “Defensively, we weren’t doing the things we teach up front. Letting the quarterback out of the pocket, that’s something we don’t each. We have one hell of a defensive staff. We didn’t panic in the locker room. First time of adversity for some of these guys and they battled. I couldn’t be prouder of these kids.”

The Bulldog defense came out with a stop and on the first drive for the offense, Christian had a big third down conversion. A few plays later, Starkey would sneak the ball in for a touchdown on a fourth and goal from the 1-yard line to make the score 14-10, still in favor of the Pirates, with 4:49 in the third quarter.

“It was huge,” said Lucas on the opening drive touchdown in the second half. “We knew we needed to answer. We knew we could get a stop on defense and we had to do our part on offense. We talked about it last week, Neff’s night last week. Tonight, we had some guys step up, Kyle (Knight) makes a heck of a throw and a touchdown catch. Nick (Christian) had 4-5 great catches. We have guys man, that’s our thing, we’ll take what the defense gives us.”

On the next Pirate drive, Bona would fumble on a scramble and the Bulldog defense swarmed, with senior defensive lineman Nicklas Holmberg recovering the ball on the Pirate 43-yard line.

“Second half, we knew they would get motored up, we knew they would come out with energy and juice,” said Beaton. “I told the kids, you can pin the whole game down to 3-4 plays. And when a couple things don’t go your way and a couple things happen for them, it can get away from you. I don’t think it got totally away or snowballed but they made plays and we didn’t. When we thought we had a pick and they make a beautiful catch. Then the bad snap. Then the turnover. We kept giving them life and we talked about not being able to do that. You can’t make mistakes in games like this. With our young guys figuring stuff out we’ll definitely learn.”

Starkey found junior running back/wide recover Mitch Reynolds on the next play, a play action pass right down the seam, down to the Pirate 11-yard line as Reynolds made a leaping one-handed grab.

On a second down from the Pirate 8-yard line, Starkey tossed a ball up the corner and wide receiver and backup quarterback Kyle Knight skied for the ball and came down with it to give the Bulldogs a 17-14 lead, their first of the game, with 2:13 left in the third quarter. They wouldn’t trail after that.

After another defensive stop, the Bulldog offense took over on their own 25-yard line with 11 minutes remaining in the game. Senior running back Aaron McDaniels took the first down carry 22-yards. Later in the drive, Starkey found senior wide receiver Hunter Neff for a 19-yard lob, beating his defender and the sideline to make the grab and walk into the end zone with 8:53 remaining to make the score 24-14.

A Bulldog defense got a fourth-down stop with under five minutes left to seal the deal, and after taking over on their own 47-yard line, they would move the ball down to the goal line, with McDaniels punching it in with 1:14 left to round out the scoring, 31-14.

Defensively, senior defensive back Ryan Somodi led the Bulldogs with 8 tackles. Three players, Holmberg, senior linebacker Jack Smith, and junior linebacker Gabe Vowles had six tackles. Holmberg forced the Bona fumble and Taylor had the interception as the Bulldogs won the turnover battle.

McDaniels led the Bulldog rushing attack with one touchdown and 93 yards on 21 carries, with the Bulldog offensive line wearing down the Pirate defense as the game carried on.

Starkey had another solid outing for the Bulldogs, finishing 15-22 for 233 yards, 2 touchdowns, and one interception. Knight went 1-1 on a trick play, a 32-yard pass. After Neff led the team last week with all but a few of the catches, the Pirate defense focused on him this week.

“He’s the real deal,” said Beaton on Neff. “It’s that delicate balance. How much do you do to take him away without becoming not sound everywhere else? At the end of the day, he’ll make a play or two and that’s okay. He’s that good of a player. He’ll make some plays and our guys have to take a deep breath and go to the next play.”

This week, Reynolds (3-64) Christian (4-61) and Knight (4-51, 1 TD) all stepped up as pass catchers as the Bulldog offense showcased more of the weapons they had.

“Kyle’s a game changer,” said Lucas. “When he’s not playing QB were trying to find ways to get him the ball. We knew they were doubling Neff, we talked about it at halftime about throwing to other guys. Alluded to it last week with his big night, they did a good job bracketing Neff.”


Post-game Reactions


“It’s huge for us,” said Lucas on the win and the first taste of adversity for some of the new Varsity players. “We started off flat and I’ll take responsibility, but we’ve got to be ready to come out and play every week. Coming off a huge game against Dexter we knew it’d be a big game and good atmosphere, but we came out flat. You learn a lot about a team early on. Great way to feel where we’re at. 2-0 in the league. Got St. Thomas Moore from Canada next week. Going to enjoy, get back to practice Monday. Couldn’t be prouder of our guys, staff and to be a Bulldog”

“I told them no one is getting down,” said Beaton on what he talked about with the team after the game. “No one’s down on you. We came in and asked them to give everything they got. With a young team when you can do that and give you everything you’ve got, never quit, never point fingers, and never get down, that’s a great sign. They did that. They fought and fought to the very end. Biggest positive you can take out of that game. Now we figure out where things went wrong. Adjustments, not a complete overhaul, right? slight adjustments to what we do. Four things in second half that shifted the entire game. We got to make sure we don’t let it happen in the future.”

Photos by Lynne Beauchamp

Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

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