Team of Destiny- Bulldogs Pull Off Amazing Rally to Win D4 Title

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By Mike Williamson- mwillie3@hotmail.com

It would be hard for one to argue that the 2021 Chelsea Bulldogs football team was a team of destiny after rallying from 28 points down to claim the Division 4 State Championship with an amazing come from behind 55-52 win over Hudsonville Unity Christian Friday night.

Hunter Shaw nailed a 33-yard field goal as time expired to give the Bulldogs its third straight last-minute win on its way to the state title.

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The Bulldogs blocked a field goal and returned it for a touchdown to beat Detroit Country Day in the Regional Final, then had a goal line stand in the final seconds to beat Freeland in the state semifinals and then beat what some called the best team in the state in any class with a rally for the ages for the title.

Things looked bleak in the second half when Unity scored 56 seconds in to the second half to take a 45-17 lead.

“When we fell behind, I tried to stay calm, cool and collected in the moment,” Coach Josh Lucas said. “The kids are a reflection of me and if I put my head down, they will do the same and we kept them up.”

The Bulldogs began to peck away at the Unity lead when Trent Hill scored from three yards out to cut the lead to 45-24.

Trent Hill scores from three yards out to start the Chelsea rally

The momentum changer came on the next drive when Unity lined up to punt. The Crusaders had not punted a single time all season and tried to fake the punt and Carson Gray stopped the punter just short of the first down marker to give the Bulldogs the ball near midfield.

Lucas Dunn would connect with Lucas Hanifan for an 11-yard scoring pass with 50 seconds left in the third to cut the lead to 45-31.

Lucas Hanifan scores on an 11-yard pass at the end of the this quarter

‘We felt at the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth that they were wearing down,” Lucas said. “The kids were coming off the field saying that they weren’t hitting as hard and didn’t have the drive they did earlier in the game.”

Unity struck again with a 35-yard TD run to push the lead back to 21 at 52-31, but Chelsea wasn’t done.

Dunn hit Hanifan with a 21-yard TD pass with 8:27 left to make it 52-38.

Then the unthinkable happened. The Chelsea defense held its ground and after an incompletion Unity was forced to punt for the first time this season. The punt went into the endzone and the Bulldogs took over at the 20.

Passes to Hill, Ben Strzyzewski, and a 22-yard run by Cole Munson quickly moved the ball into Unity territory and Dunn hit Hanifan with a 29-yard scoring pass for a 40 second scoring drive to make it 52-45 with 6:15 left.

Just two plays later the Bulldog defense forced a fumble that was recovered by Braden Watson at the Crusader 19. A pair of handoffs gave the Bulldogs a third down when Dunn connected with Hanifan once again, this time from 16 yards out to tie the game at 52 with 4:43 left.

Lucas Hanifan and Lucas Dunn celebrate one of their five touchdown connections

Unity would take the kickoff and drive to midfield, but the Bulldogs forced another fumble that once again was recovered by Watson.

Chelsea would move into Unity territory, but the Crusaders stepped in front of a pass for an interception and had the ball at its own 34 with 1:11 left.

Two plays later, the Bulldogs defense forced the third straight turnover of the Crusaders when Regan Plank recovered a fumble at the Unity 35.

Hill carried it two yards and Dunn hit Hanifan with a 13-yard pass for a first down. Hill would carry it one more time for four yards to the 16 and Lucas let the clock run down to three seconds to set up a 33-yard field goal attempt by Shaw. Unity would try to ice Shaw with a pair of timeouts.

The snap was low, but Dunn was able to scoop the ball and place it down and Shaw nailed it through the uprights as time expired and the Bulldogs rushed the field in celebration.

“The snap was a little low, but Dunn was able to get it down,” Lucas said. “We practice special teams more then anyone in the state and it showed.”

Hanifan set a state record by catching five touchdown passes and caught nine passes for 139 yards.

Lucas Dunn passed for a state finals state record of 6 touchdown passes against Unity Christian

“We lost Joe Taylor after last season and he moved on to the U of M and wore number 4 and Lucas (Hanifan) came to me during the off season and said he wanted to wear that number and he wanted to take that challenge,” Lucas said. “He is a special player. What a way to cap it off.”

Dunn tossed for a state finals record of six touchdowns. He finished 25-36 passing for 308 yards and two interceptions.

“There is no other guy I would want under center,” Lucas said. “He had a hell of a night shaking off those two interceptions with the six TD’s.”

The start of the game was nearly perfect for the Bulldogs. They took the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards and scored on a 33-yard Dunn to Hanifan TD pass for a 7-0 lead.

On Unity’s first play Jason Skoczylas stripped the ball and Gray recovered to give Chelsea the ball at the Crusader’s 25. The Bulldogs would capitalize, and Dunn hit Munson with a five-yard scoring pass to make it 14-0 with 4:22 left in the first.

The stunning start did not slow Unity as they 67 yards in in 1:18 to cut the Chelsea lead to 14-8.

A penalty hurt the Bulldogs on the next drive and Chelsea was forced to punt and Unity struck quickly with a 25-yard TD pass and two-point conversion to make it 16-14 after one quarter.

Unity showed why they set the state record for points in the season in the second quarter as they scored a pair of touchdowns to take a 32-14 lead.

Chelsea would stop the roll with a Shaw 26-yard field goal with 1:56 left in the half to cut the lead to 32-17, but Unity wasn’t done and scored on a 27-yard TD pass with 36 seconds left I the half to make it 38-17 at the half and set up the amazing Bulldogs comeback.

The Bulldogs would outgain the high-powered Unity offense 533-491.

Unity racked up 393 rushing yards to 225 for the Bulldogs. Hill led Chelsea with 149 yards on 33 carries and one score, while Munson rushed for 67 yards on ten carries and caught four passes for 41 yards and a score.

Nick Fisk caught five passes for 43 yards, Strzyzewski 4 for 49, and Hill three for 39.

Robert Tyson led the Chelsea defense with eight tackles, Liam Conti seven, and Nolan Sinkwitts six.

The state title comes after the Bulldogs had come so close the previous three years under Lucas. They fell to Edwardsburg in the D4 finals in 2018 and fell to River Rouge in the D3 semifinals the last two years.

The Bulldogs finished the season at 14-0 and Chelsea is 46-6 since Lucas took over as head coach in 2018 and after the game a large cheering section for the coach were chanting his name as he hopped the bench and climbed the wall to celebrate with friends and family.

Chelsea coach Josh Lucas celebrates with freinds an family after the Bulldogs 55-52 state title victory

When Lucas was hired people wondered if he was the right man for the job to take over for legendary coach Brad Bush.  Lucas came from the west side of the state and not knowing Chelsea very well. Well after Friday night, it appears to be destiny.

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