Chelsea Wins District Title Behind Stout Defense

The Chelsea Bulldogs celebrate after claiming the district title over Milan on Oct. 2. Photo by Mike Williamson.

By: Seth Kinker,

The Chelsea Bulldog Football team (8-3) won a district title on Nov. 2, defeating the Milan Big Reds (8-3), 35-14. A chippy contest that had many penalties and two ejections for the Big Reds was played on a muddy, cold night.

Coming into this game, the Big Reds were averaging 34.6 points per game en route to an 8-2 record. Besides an opening game drive that moved the ball well but ended in a Bulldog defensive stop on fourth down and two scores when the game was out of reach, the Bulldog defense shut the Big Red offense down.

According to the Big Reds came into the game averaging 211 yards on the ground. The Bulldog defense held them to 22 rushing yards.

First Quarter

The Big Reds came out immediately in the wildcat formation, with junior wide receiver Tristen Hines receiving the snap. The Big Reds took the opening kickoff from their own 34-yard line down the field, possessing the ball for most of the quarter while moving into Bulldog territory.

Hines came into the game with over 500 receiving and 500 rushing yards, a threat in the backfield or lining up out wide.

“The last three weeks they’ve really put it together,” said Bulldog defensive coordinator Grant Fanning. “When they lost to Gross Ile, they changed things. They got the ball in Hines’ hands more. We knew if he was in the backfield they were going to be running. We were worried because at the beginning they moved it really good.”

Big Red senior thousand-yard rusher Hunter Aeschbacker was stuffed on a fourth-down run on the opening Big Red drive at the Bulldog 26-yard line. He was met by senior defensive lineman Nicklas Holmberg and a host of Bulldog defenders.

Second Quarter

Bulldog senior defensive back Michael Tarasow (10) celebrates his interception against Milan. Photo by Mike Williamson.

After punting from their own 42-yard line the Bulldog defense came up with a turnover, Big Red senior quarterback Dylan Jones was looking to throw a slant but no one was home. Bulldog senior defensive back Michael Tarasow was able to slide under it to give the Bulldogs the ball on the Big Red 40-yard line.

A quick 19-yard pass to Bulldog sophomore wide receiver Ross Stofflet got the ball down to the Big Red 21-yard line. Two Big Red penalties, a facemask, and an unnecessary roughness, gave the Bulldogs a first and goal. Bulldog senior running back Aaron McDaniels ran it in on the next play, a 4-yard rush to give the Bulldogs the 7-0 lead with 6:51 in the half.

“A guy that I’m proud of is (junior wide receiver) Ross Stofflet,” said Chelsea head coach Josh Lucas.” He hasn’t had a lot of opportunities, but we’ve been telling him all year he was going to make plays when it matters. He’s a 6’ 3” basketball kid that can go up and get it. They probably didn’t even know he was on our roster, that’s the luxury of the guys and depth we’ve got.”

A quick defensive stop gave the Bulldogs the ball back on their own 25-yard line. On a second and long from their own 33-yard line, Bulldog senior quarterback Quinn Starkey found senior wide receiver Hunter Neff with a pass to the sideline. Neff caught it, spun away from his defender and took it to the house, a 67-yard catch and run to make it 14-0 with 3:57 remaining.

Neff came into the game averaging 16.1 yards per catch. He addded to that average on Oct. 2 with five catches for 146 yards and the touchdown.

“We didn’t think they would man to man (cover) Neff,” said Lucas. “They did a couple times and when you find those matchups, you’ve seen it all year, it’s going to happen. Hunter is a heck of a player. It’s hard to tackle him, put him in these field conditions and it’s even tougher.”

The Bulldogs made it 21-0 at halftime after an illegal formation made the Big Reds punt. After the initial punt went into Bulldog territory, the illegal formation post-penalty punt went out at the Big Red 43-yard line with 1:31 remaining in the half.

Starkey found senior tight end Nick Christian on a key third-down conversion to make it first and goal, and on the next play, Starkey found junior wide receiver Kyle Knight on a slant and Knight did the rest to make it 21-0 with 16 seconds before halftime.

Starkey finished 12-18 for 204 yards and a touchdown.

“Quinns a competitor,” said Lucas on his quarterback. “A three sport dude, calm, cool, and collected and that’s what we want playing quarterback. He’s our leader.”

“What really helped is the offense getting a lead,” said Fanning. “Then we could get them out of what they wanted to do. They put Hines out there, we tried to always bracket him with a corner short and safety over the top. We tried to do that as much as we could with how explosive he is. We just didn’t want him to get loose, he can take it the distance any time. Our defensive line played great up front and allowed us to do that. When they ran it inside, the defensive line and linebackers did great. I couldn’t be prouder.”

Third Quarter

Junior defensive lineman Daniel Golding makes a tackle against Milan. Photo by Mike Williamson

The Bulldogs punted to start the half but a stout defensive hold, capped off by a sack and a tackle for loss by Bulldog senior defensive lineman Nehemiah Mite, one on fourth down, gave the Bulldogs the ball deep in Big Red territory.

Mite finished with four tackles, a tackle for loss, and a sack.

“I was surprised they went for it but maybe they thought with the field conditions it was the best call,” said Fanning. “What we did was get stops and our offense made them pay. Our offense got it going, and we got that last score at the end of the half, that was huge.”

Running plays coupled with a Big Red penalty led to a 6-yard touchdown rush from McDaniel’s on third down to make it 28-0 with 5:13 remaining. McDaniels led the team with 44 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

With 29 seconds in the quarter, the Big Reds got on the board, taking the kickoff after the Bulldog sore 82-yards. The touchdown was scored on a trick play, a halfback pass from Hines back to Jones who ran it in for the 13-yard receiving touchdown. The score was still 28-6 in favor of the Bulldogs. 

Fourth Quarter

After a Big Red onside kick, the Bulldogs recovered and got the ball at their own 43-yard line. Neff had a big catch and run on a third and long, he ran down to the four-yard line before being tackled. After a personal foul penalty on the Big Reds moved the ball half the distance, junior running back Mitch Reynolds scored with 10:54 remaining to make it 35-6.

Jones would find Hines on a 38-yard strike with 2:56 left, but it was too little too late as the Bulldogs emerged with the 35-14 victory.

Junior wide reviver Mitch Reynolds (12) celebrates with his teammates after a fourth quarter score. Photo by Mike Williamson.

After their punt on their opening drive, the Bulldogs scored on their next three possessions to take control of the game. The Bulldog defense had two fourth-down stops and multiple sacks on the way to shutting down the Big Red offense.

“Our defense is going to come out and punch you in the mouth,” said Lucas. “ That’s our MO as far as our program. They’ll stop the run and that’s what they did tonight.”

“Grant is one of the best guys I’ve ever been around. He could easily be the man running the show,” added Lucas. “I appreciate everything they do for our defense. (Secondary coach) Dan Burkholder was a head coach at Pinckney. (There’s) a bunch of guys on the staff people don’t know.”

Bulldog junior defensive lineman Daniel Golding led the team with eight tackles and two tackles for loss. Senior defensive lineman Nicklas Holmberg contributed seven tackles, a sack, and a tackle for loss.

The Bulldog defense combined for three sacks and 10 tackles for loss on the muddy night that made field conditions worse as the game went on.

Next up? Farmington Hills Harrison

The Bulldogs will face Farmington Hills Harrison next Saturday in the next round of playoff action. After the game, Lucas addressed the team.

“I told them ‘be proud of yourselves,’” said Lucas. “People kind of started doubting us when we lost a couple of games and had the hiccup at Alpena. I told them at Adrian there’s something special going here you just got to believe. People can look at the record and say it’s a terrible loss but Alpena lost four games by 12 points or less combined. It got us rejuvenated for practice, the last two weeks? Best practices all year. The kids know it’s do or die. You win or turn your stuff in on Monday. We’ll get back to work Sunday night and put together a gameplay for Harrison. We’re excited but we’re not done and satisfied with a district title. We’ve got to get to work and have a great week of practice and get ready for Harrison. I know they’ll come out to play on Saturday.”

Pictures by Mike Williamson

Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

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