Bulldogs sink Dreadnaughts in season opener, Neff with record night (with photos)

Chelsea senior wide receiver Hunter Neff makes a grab over Dexter senior safety Francis Fifelski in the season opener on Friday night. Neff finished with 10 catches for 275 yards. Photo by Mike Williamson

By: Seth Kinker, skinker@thesuntimesnews.com

 The Josh Lucas era began with a win on Friday night at Jerry Niehaus Field. The Chelsea Bulldogs opened their 2018-19 season with a win over longtime rival, the Dexter Dreadnaughts, with a 34-20 victory.

Lucas talked to The Sun Times News after the win about his first game as the head coach of Chelsea football.

“First game here, replacing a legend in Brad (Bush), playing Dexter. There’s a lot of emotions,” said Lucas about his feelings before the game. “I didn’t sleep much this week I’ll be honest with you. But I’m excited, grateful to be here, and have the opportunity to be in Chelsea.”

Opening with each other for the first time since 1958, the Bulldogs held an all-time series edge over the Dreadnaughts, 53-13-2.

Both offenses moved the ball early, the first punt didn’t come until 5:20 left in the first half.

The Dreadnaughts were led by sophomore quarterback Colin Parachek, who beat out senior Luke Coogan for the starting quarterback job this summer. His height allowed him to see the field well and spread the ball around to the talented Dreadnaught skill players like senior wide receiver/tight end Alex Mills, senior wide receiver Andy Durand, and junior running back/wide receiver Antwan Ficklen. Parachek finished 15-26 on the night for 177 yards and two touchdowns.

“We have to protect him a little bit better, he was under duress for most of the night,” second-year Dreadnaught head coach Phil Jacobs on Parachek. “We definitely have to improve in that area because we have some receivers that can get open. He made some plays; the receivers made some plays. I think we only had one drop on a screen and a couple low balls. But for a 14-year old sophomore, his first varsity football game? He played well, tough kid.”

On defense, the Dreadnaughts were led by Jordan Watson, who had a team-high 14 tackles. Senior linebacker David Kreske added eight tackles and senior defensive back Evan Chapell had six.

Their first drive quickly moved into Bulldogs territory after a few passes from Parachek, aided by a Bulldog pass interference. The drive stalled late in the first quarter in Bulldog territory and a field goal attempt from Dreadnaught senior kicker Karl Kerska was blocked by Bulldog senior defensive back Doug Zarinnia, who came off the edge unblocked, to keep the game scoreless.

“I was looking at my guys outside hip, he jumped inside, and thought ‘Wow this is an open lane,’” said Zarinnia. “I did what I was coached (to do).”

Zarinnia led the Bulldog defense with six tackles including two tackles for loss. As the game went on, the Bulldogs constant pressure of Parachek prevented him from getting into a rhythm, constantly being forced to step up into the pocket or scramble by the front seven of the Bulldog defense.

“We game-planned the entire week, we knew what we were going to see,” said Zarinnia. “Just a lot of slants, bubble routes, short passes, bubble routes to Ficklen. I think the defense did a great job stopping him today.”

The Bulldogs defense held Ficklen to 30-yards and held the Dreadnaught offense to only 238 yards overall and 18 minutes with the ball.

The Bulldogs were efficient on offense, scoring touchdowns on five of their eight possessions including all three of their first-half drives.

On the next possession for the Bulldogs, runs from senior running back Aaron McDaniels coupled with a deep pass from senior quarterback Quinn Starkey to senior wide receiver Hunter Neff got the ball deep in Dreadnaught territory. McDaniels capped the drive off with a touchdown from inside the 5-yard line with 3:34 remaining in the first quarter to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead.

McDaniels had 31 carries and 115 yards on the night, adding three touchdowns in the first half on a night where the Bulldog offensive line wore down the Dreadnaughts.

“We dominated up front, so my job was pretty easy,” said McDaniels. “Coach Lucas had a good game plan looking at their defensive front, we just went out and executed.”

The connection from Stark to Neff was something you should get used to hearing. Neff finished with 10 catches for 275 yards and two touchdowns, with multiple long yards after the catch runs. The 275 receiving yards were good for fifteenth-most receiving yards in a game in Michigan High School Athletic Association history.

“I was just preparing all week,” said Neff. “Game planning helped a lot. I just ran my routes and Quinn threw me some great balls. It was a great night.”

Starkey accounted for 329 yards of the 456 yards of offense for the Bulldogs, going 13-19 through the air for 299 yards and two touchdowns, with all but three passes going to Neff on his monster night.

“When you got a dude like Hunter out there, it’s always a strength, regardless of what they have planned defensively,” said Starkey on the offense Friday night. “Our offensive line blocked very well, skill players ran great routes,  and the coaches called good plays. All that mixed together is a good recipe for success.”

“That kid, I’ll tell you right now, if he wasn’t playing travel baseball, that kid should be getting (college) looks,” said Lucas on Neff. “He plays three sports so it’s hard for colleges to be able to get to see him as a football player because he’s gone so much, but the kid’s a freak.”

“I felt like we were in a good rhythm on offense,” continued Lucas. “I felt like we did what we needed to do, and with what we’re bringing to the table we have too many options. Our offensive line is coming along, that’s the last thing that usually comes along is the offensive line. They struggled early, in the scrimmage too, but now they starting to get it worked out. If the offensive line gets to be where I know they will be, we’ll be alright.”

In response to the Bulldog touchdown, the Dreadnaughts took the kickoff right down the field on their next drive, a seven play 63-yard drive capped off by a 39-yard sweep to Ficklen, the extra point was missed and made the score 7-6 with 1:20 remaining in the first quarter.

Ficklen was a point of emphasis for the Bulldogs, a speedy junior that transferred from Adrian high school with big-play potential any time he touched the ball.

“They took Antwan away too, you could tell they weren’t going to let Antwan beat them,” added Jacobs. “We tried to some things, like putting him in motion, but they took him away. That opened up some other things, Andy Durand had couple nice catches, wide open twice, for touchdowns. Alex Mills a couple times, Rhett (Jacobs) was open early in the game, so we just got to keep spreading the ball around.”

The Bulldogs responded with a 12-play 80-yard drive of their own, ending with another McDaniels touchdown from the one-yard line to make it 13-6 halfway through the second quarter.

After forcing a Dreadnaught punt the Bulldogs continued to pour it on, a third 80-yard drive that included a 42-yard catch from Starkey to Neff. McDaniels capped off the drive with the last touchdown in the half with 1:16 remaining to make it 20-6 at halftime in favor of the Bulldogs.

The backbreaker for the Dreadnaughts came at the start of the second half, they stopped the Bulldogs opening drive and blocked the punt to get the ball back on the Chelsea 24-yard line. But the Bulldog defense stood tall, stopping the Dreadnaughts on all three downs and stood them up on a fourth down conversion, too.

On the next Bulldog drive, Starkey found Neff wide open on blown coverage right up the seam and he took it to the house. A 69-yard catch and run to put the Bulldogs up 27-6.

The Bulldogs had huge success through the air but continued to wear down the Dreadnaughts up front with McDaniels and the offensive line throughout the night.

The nail in the coffin came early in the fourth quarter. Neff was in single coverage in the red zone, Starkey threw a ball over the top to the corner and it was a little too high. On the very next play, the Bulldogs went right back to it and Neff made a leaping grab in the same corner despite a defensive pass interference to make the score 34-6 with 11:49 remaining.

“That Neff, he’s as good as there is in this league,” added Jacobs. “He’s a one-man show tonight, and I know that team is not a one-man show. But he beat us tonight. We beat ourselves too with the penalties, you’re not going to beat a good football team, have those penalties and expect to win”

The two teams combined for 16 penalties as the rivalry game got more heated as the night went on.

“You could feel the emotion in the kids,” said Lucas. “It got a little chippy out there, that’s going to happen, but we have to be smarter too. Our kids have to understand the situation

The Dreadnaughts scored two long touchdowns late, Parachek hit Durand on two blown coverages for long catch and run touchdowns that forced the Bulldog first string defense back in the game late.

The game ended 34-20 as the Bulldogs advanced to 54-13-2 all-time against the Dreadnaughts. The win also marks 23 straight victories in the rivalry for the Bulldogs.

After the game, Lucas was discussed his post-game talk with the team with The Sun Times News as well as his thoughts on the Dreadnaught program

“24 hours to enjoy it,” said Lucas after the win. “I know it’s a big one, but we have big goals. Dexter is one of those big goals. We always want to beat Dexter, and we were fortunate to do that tonight. At the same time, we have bigger aspirations as a program and team that we want to do. Looking to Pinckney, that’s who our sights are on now. Our thoughts Sunday night will be Pinckney. Our kids will enjoy this one because it’s a big deal, you see those kids around town, share communities, our kids get to brag for a year and we’ll see where we’re at next year.”

“I’ll tell you this, Dexter is right there,” continued Lucas. “The game is never over, and the kids found that out tonight. Coach Jacobs doing some great things over there, I think they’re going to get some teams this year. People can look at the losing streak, but the losing streak doesn’t reflect that team. That’s a good team, they deserve a lot of credit, they’ll get there for sure.”

Photos by Mike Williamson & Seth Kinker

Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

Leave a Reply