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| 4 min. read | by: Seth Kinker, skinker@thesuntimesnews.com |

The 20th ranked Chelsea Bulldogs (12-1) fell to the 14th ranked River Rouge Panthers (12-1) in a division three state semifinal on Nov. 23 at Dearborn High School by a final score of 14-7 to conclude their season. 

The Bulldogs have faced three physically imposing teams thus far in the postseason and Saturday was no different. 

They fought for all four quarters but the Panthers rushing attacked produced two late touchdowns after being stymied all day that would be the difference maker in preventing the Bulldogs from heading back to Ford Field for consecutive years for the first time in program history. 

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1st half 

In the first quarter, on the game’s opening drive, the Bulldog defense forced a fumble deep in Panther territory. Bulldog senior defensive lineman Daniel Golding sacked Panther junior quarterback Mareyohn Hrabowski and forced a fumble that was recovered by senior defensive lineman Josiah Fitch. 

The Bulldogs wouldn’t be able to capitalize, with Panthers junior defensive back Joshua Wiley intercepting a Bulldog pass on fourth down to end the threat. The other two possessions in the opening quarter for the Panthers and Bulldogs ended in punts. 

The first score of the game didn’t happen until 6:46 in the first half. Panthers junior punter Avery Burch took off after receiving the punt but came up just short on the fourth and 13 fake from their own 22-yard line. 

 A 24-yard run by senior running back Mitch Reynolds would put the Bulldogs ahead 7-0. 

With 6:35 in the half, the Panthers got the ball on their own 38-yard line. 

13 plays later, a fourth down conversion among them, the Panthers faced a third and long on the Bulldog 26-yard line and took their last timeout with 10 seconds left. 

Bulldog junior safety Joe Taylor would intercept a Hrabowski pass intended for Tayshaun Massey with five seconds left to preserve the Bulldogs lead, sending the teams to the locker room with the Bulldogs leading 7-0. 

“We liked where we were at,” said Bulldog head coach Josh Lucas. “7-0, we were kind of shutting them down in the first half.” 

2nd half

Both Bulldog possessions in the third quarter came up empty. 

Their first possession to start the second half began at their own 8-yard line and only went backwards, ending in a punt. 

On their second chance with the ball, the Bulldogs began with good field position at their own 37-yard line but Bulldog penalties coupled with the Panthers defense had the drive end in negative yardage similar to their first drive of the second half. 

The Panthers had two possessions in the third quarter, their first ended in a turnover on downs after the Bulldogs punted to start the second half. 

After the Bulldogs had to punt from their own endzone, the Panthers first drive of the second half stalled at the Bulldog 37-yard line. Hrabowski heaved a ball on fourth and 12 towards the end zone intended for Panthers senior wide receiver Xavier Smith, but Bulldog junior safety Chase Kemp got his hands up to break up the pass. 

On the next Panther drive, however, they would score. They took their last possession of the third quarter that started from their own 13-yard line, drove the 87-yards down the field, and scored with 9:02 left in the fourth quarter on a 12-yard quarterback keeper by Hrabowski to tie the game. 

As the half wore on, the Panthers began to wear down the Bulldogs in the trenches with Bulley, the 245 pound back, and Hrabowski. 

A three and out for the Bulldogs on their ensuing drive forced another punt and Smith returned it 65-yards for a touchdown but the play was called back due to a block in the back.

Beginning at the drive at their own 36-yard line with 6:37 left, the Panthers were still able to score after the deflating penalty. Hrabowski kept the ball on the first play of the drive, a quarterback read, to take the ball down to the Bulldog 32-yard line. 

Five plays later, Bulley found the endzone from six yards out on a third and two from the Bulldog six-yard line with 3:38 left to give the Panthers their first lead of the game, 14-7. 

“That fourth quarter we couldn’t get first downs on offense,” said Lucas. “We had the one that was called back for a penalty, that was a killer. You can’t do those in big games like this, especially when you have them on the ropes like we felt we did. We didn’t make a couple plays in the end and that will happen in football games. I’m proud of my guys. (This) defensive staff, to hold them to 14 points is a heck of a job by the staff and every single kid involved with that.”

Two incomplete passes had the Bulldogs facing a third and long, and a sack made it fourth and 15. A deep pass intended for Taylor fell incomplete and after a first down, the Panthers were able to kneel out the remaining time to clinch the victory. 

Lucas continues Bulldog success on the gridiron

Despite the loss, the Bulldogs had another fantastic season. 

They earned the program’s 24th league title, ninth district title, and third regional title while being the first team to earn back to back regional titles in program history with a second-year coach that has embraced the community and been embraced in return. 

This senior class were juniors in Lucas’ first year last year and a group he touched on after the loss on Nov. 23.

“A lot of unknowns last year and we were able to do what we did last year with those guys as juniors,” said Lucas. “They wanted to get back to that game, they wanted a piece of the state championship. We went for it. I will say that. It wasn’t one of the things where we were going to come out and be timid or scared. We came after these guys. We knew what was on the line and that’s on the seniors. They led this team all the way.” 

Lucas added that he will remember this team for their resiliency, they trailed late in all three of their prior post season games heading into today before coming out with the win. 

“I’m proud of every single one of them,” said Lucas of this year’s team. “They’ve got no reason to hold their heads down. A league championship. Back to back district and regional champions. A State finals appearance and a loss today against a good football team. That’s football. One team has to win, one has to lose. We’re proud of our guys. It stings and it’s going to hurt but they will wake up tomorrow and be ok.”

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