By: Seth Kinker, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Chelsea Bulldogs (9-3) claimed their first regional title since 2015, when they made a run to the state championship game, on Nov. 10 over the Farmington Hills Harrison Hawks (8-4), 21-14.
The game was the last for the Hawks program, the school will be closing at the end of this year, a cost-cutting decision for the district. With it, ends the career of the all-time winningest coach in Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) history, John Herrington. He coached all 49 seasons at the school, amassing 443 career wins and 13 state championships.
The Bulldogs won the district title over Milan last week, 35-14, and the Hawks won their district title on a miracle last play, 13-10, to set up this regional title game.
Two touchdowns in the final three minutes and two plays by two new players to this year’s Varsity team helped the Bulldogs secure a trip to the state semi-finals next week at Walled Lake Northern taking on Williamston (10-2).
The Hawks held a 7-0 lead after the first quarter, scoring on their opening drive. They took the ball from their own 33-yard line, running the ball repeatedly with Northwestern commit and senior Rod Heard.
Heard had ten straight runs on that drive, moving into fourth place on the all time rushing list at Harrison, and ended the long opening drive with a 14-yard run through a big hole on the right side.
Out of the 270 yards of offense the Hawks had, Heard was responsible for 182 of them.
With 3:32 remaining in the first half, the Bulldogs got on the board. After a short punt from the Hawks gave the Bulldogs the ball at midfield, they used a five play, 50-yard drive capped off by a 38-yard touchdown run on a counter from junior wide receiver Kyle Knight.
Knight finished with 46 yards on the day, lining up just about everywhere on the offense.
Knight planted his foot on a counter on that run and found a large hole on the counter, using his blockers down the field to weave his way into the end zone to tie the game at seven.
“We saw quotes that some (Farmington) players had,” said senior quarterback Quinn Starkey. “ (About) trying to take away (Hunter) Neff. The luxury of our offense? Having dudes like Kyle (Knight) Mitch (Reynolds), Nick (Christian), Brennan (Van Ripper), Ross (Stofflet) and Aaron (McDaniels). It was Kyle’s night tonight. It was time for him to show out and he did.”
The Hawks thought they scored right before the half, a third and six pass from the Bulldog 24-yard line to Heard who ran it in after losing his coverage. That play, however, was called back on a Hawks chop block. That made it fourth and long and Neff, who has played both sides of the ball as the postseason has arrived, had a tackle on the fourth down pass to break it up.
The Bulldogs received the second half kick but couldn’t move the ball, punting from their own 29-yard line. The Hawks would score on their opening drive, starting at their own 37-yard line. Heard scored his second touchdown of the day on an 11-yard toss to the left. He used his speed to the pylon, outrunning everyone to make it 14-7 with 5:57 remaining.
The two teams traded punts early in the fourth quarter, with the second Hawks punt giving the Bulldogs good field position at their own 48-yard line with 5:46. After an incomplete pass on first down and a sweep that went backwards on second down, the Bulldogs were facing a third and seventeen from their own 42-yard line. Starkey rolled left, avoiding pressure and found Neff to the Hawks 36-yard line.
Starkey finished 17-26 for 142 yards and two touchdowns. Neff was his leading receiver with five catches for 75 yards and a touchdown.
“They brought some outside pressure,” said Starkey on that long conversion, one of the bigger plays in the game trailing with under six minutes remaining. “I rolled outside the pocket, Hunter saw me too and was running and staying with me. That ball was high, I don’t know how he got it. He went up, got it and took a shot too. That’s the type of dude he is, willing to lay it on the line for any of his teammates.”
That drive was finished off by a slant to Neff for an 11-yard touchdown pass on second and goal to tie the game at 14 with 2:07 remaining.
— Seth Kinker (@SethKinker) November 10, 2018
On the Hawks ensuing drive, they started at their own 20-yard line. They had moved the ball to the Bulldog 42-yard line when a low snap was recovered by Bulldog senior defensive lineman, and first-year football player, Nicklas Holmberg at the Hawks 27-yard line with 46 seconds left.
“I saw (Nehemiah Mite) was getting to the quarterback,” said Holmberg on the botched snap. “Then the ball came out, bad snap, (Mite) kicked it and it went farther back. My eyes got as big as eggs, ‘I’m gonna make it a touchdown.’ Then I thought ‘I don’t want to fumble it and have them get the ball back and score a touchdown,’ so I just jumped on it and felt a slew of people jump on me and I knew we were gonna win the game.”
“They botched the snap, we were waiting for it,” added Lucas. “The whole year it’s been balls on the ground, we don’t get it. Ball in the air, we don’t get it. Tonight, we got it at the most important time. We never thought to try and take it to OT. We wanted to score and end the game, that’s what we did.”
— Seth Kinker (@SethKinker) November 10, 2018
Two plays later, Starkey found senior running back Aaron McDaniels on a wheel route wide open for the 22-yard touchdown strike to take the lead, 21-14.
Starkey to McDaniels!! pic.twitter.com/1jKFuQhMtx
— Chelsea Bulldogs (@ChelseaBulldogs) November 10, 2018
McDaniels had the second most all purpose yards behind Neff, adding 34 yards on the ground and 32 through the air including the game winning touchdown.
“We hadn’t run that play in a while,” said Starkey on the touchdown toss. “We had trust in Aaron, that play worked with us in the Jackson game. I knew it was there and we hadn’t run it in a while, we thought it was a perfect time to. Aaron made the catch and got it in the end zone.”
On the kickoff, the Hawks tried lateraling to gain extra yardage, but just wasted 8 seconds and took over on their own 25-yard line with 25 seconds remaining. Bulldog sophomore safety, and first-year Varsity player, Joe Taylor, the team leader in interceptions, added to that total on the first Hawks play, picking it to seal the win, 21-14.
— The D Zone (@TheD_Zone) November 10, 2018
“We were playing cover 4, I knew they were gonna run something deep,” said Taylor on the game sealing pick. “They did, they threw it and I grabbed it.”
Taylor led the defense with the 14 tackles along with the interception, junior defensive lineman Daniel Golding added 11 tackles with a tackle for loss, senior linebacker Evan Vaughn had eight tackles and senior linebacker Russell Timmerman had four tackles with a sack and a tackle for loss.
“Joe was sick all week, I think he practiced one time this week,” said Bulldog head coach Josh Lucas. “To come here as a sophomore and do what he does, he runs our defense. He’s gonna be a heck of a player for the next two years, he already is. Joe is a ball hawk, I knew he was gonna make the play, not a question in my mind.”
“We’re excited to enjoy this one,” said Lucas. “Five days of practice to prepare and play for a state championship.”
“It feels great,” added Starkey on the win. “I feel like this is a monumental win for the school, the history they (Farmington) had and the history we had together. It was a great win.”
Chelsea was 0-3 against Farmington coming into the game. Their last meeting was a 65-64 Farmington win 15 years ago in a pre-district matchup.
The Bulldogs will face Williamston next Saturday at 1 p.m. at Walled Lake Northern to go to the Division 4 state championship.
For photos from the game visit here.