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| 5 min. read | by: Seth Kinker, skinker@thesuntimesnews.com |

The Chelsea Bulldogs (11-0) remained undefeated by defeating the Coldwater Cardinals (9-2) to win a division three district title championship on Nov. 8 at home, 28-21. 

Last week, the Bulldogs trailed 21-6 early in the fourth quarter before scoring 22 straight points to win 28-21. 

Tonight, the Bulldogs fell behind 21-7 early in the fourth quarter before a comeback capped off by a late 1-yard touchdown run from Bulldog junior quarterback Griffen Murphy gave them the 28-21 win. Murphy led the team in rushing (69 yards, one touchdown) and passing (8-12, 154 yards, three touchdowns) as the junior continues to improve at quarterback.

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The Bulldogs knew that the Cardinals were a run first, physical team that would look to win the battle in the trenches as the Cardinals keep the ball on the ground unless trailing. 

After the Bulldogs won the coin toss and deferred the Cardinals opened up the game with 65-yard drive, all run plays, that resulted in a two-yard touchdown run from Cardinals senior Damon Beckhusen. 

Bulldog senior linebacker Sam Michael, who led the team with 12 total tackles, said they knew the Cardinals game planned per opponent. After seeing them run a veer set against their last opponent in film, Michael said the defense saw something different early. 

“They came out here (tonight) and ran something a little different,” said Michael. “They brought the wide receiver in and tried to make him hit the safety or inside linebacker. Our coaching staff did a heck of a job. At the end of the first series when they scored a touchdown, they drew up a whole new formation. I love this coaching staff. They know what they’re doing. They’re a great group of coaches.” 

The Chelsea coaching staff makes adjustments with the defense. Photo by Lynne Beauchamp.

That 7-0 scoreline would be taken into the second quarter with the Bulldogs taking over after a fourth down stop by Michael in Cardinal territory. 

On the first play of the second quarter, Murphy scrambled out of the pocket on a third down and found senior wide receiver Ross Stofflet for the 41-yard touchdown to tie it, 7-7, with 11:49 in the half. Stofflet had an efficient night with two catches for two touchdowns and 75 yards.

“It’s a quick gain so that ball should be coming out,” said Bulldog head coach Josh Lucas on the play design. “He ad libbed, and Ross broke off his route and made a hell of a catch in the end zone. When we’re doing this stuff, guys have to make plays at some point.”

Bulldog junior safety Joe Taylor would end the next Cardinal drive with an interception after they tried a play action pass on third down. Taylor would finish with four total tackles, a pick, and a forced fumble.

The Bulldogs drove it down to the Cardinals 25-yard line but turned it over on downs when a completed pass was short of the sticks. 

With 1:06 the Bulldogs got the ball back on their own 16-yard line. Murphy found senior wide receiver, and sometimes quarterback, Kyle Knight for a 20-yard pass play that would put the Bulldogs at their own 37-yard line. 

What looked to be a late hit on a Murphy scramble the next play resulted in two unsportsmanlike penalties on the Bulldogs that backed them up to their own 12-yard line and killed their drive. 

A Bulldog punt resulted in one run for the Cardinals to take it into halftime with the teams tied at seven. 

At halftime, Lucas said there weren’t many adjustments to make. They were happy with the offense; they just knew they needed more possessions. 

All Cardinal kicks were high and placed short and they forced a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half to get the ball at the Bulldog 40-yard line. 

They then drove the 40-yards on the ground, eating up six minutes and 44 seconds as senior running back Matt Gipple put the Cardinals up 14-7 with 5:09 in the third after a 1-yard touchdown run. 

Heading into the fourth quarter, the Cardinals led 14-7. Lucas knew they’d have to spread the Cardinals out more and throw the ball but wanted to run to keep them honest. 

On the first play of the fourth quarter, a third and four from their own 39-yard line, Gipple ripped off a 61-yard touchdown run to the right to put the Cardinals up 21-7 with 11:48 to go. 

Gipple finished with 24 carries for 167 yards and two touchdowns as the Cardinals ran the ball 52 times for a total of 233 yards.

The Bulldogs would respond with a touchdown on the ensuing drive, driving the ball from their own 33-yard line, capped off by a 16-yard touchdown pass from Murphy to Knight on a third down with 8:23 left to make it 21-14. Knight led the Bulldogs with four catches for 69 yards and a touchdown.

“Griff scrambled and Kyle broke off his route and that touchdown got us back in the game,” said Lucas. “Those two guys understand the positions of each other and made a play when we needed a play.” 

On the first play of the next Cardinal drive, Gipple fumbled and Bulldog junior linebacker Corbin Steele was there for the recovery on the Cardinals 31-yard line. 

Corbin Steele (left) celebrates his fumble recovery with Gabe Vowles (right).

Lucas commended this team before tonight’s contest for not worrying about the score and just going out and playing. 

“Tonight, goes back to us doing what we do,” said Lucas. “Two platoon. They’d been gashing us the whole game and in the fourth quarter we shut them down. We forced them into long downs and distances and forced them to throw it when they didn’t want to throw it. When they turned it over we knew we had to score because that might’ve been our last opportunity to get it within a score. We were able to do that and make plays on offense and our defense kept us in it all night.” 

Two plays later, the Bulldogs would score again. This time it was a 34-yard touchdown pass from Murphy to Stofflet for their second connection of the evening that tied the game at 21 with 6:54 left. 

A touchback would start the Cardinals drive on their own 20-yard line and after seven plays the Cardinals faced a third and long at their own 30-yard line. 

It was only the Cardinals second or third pass attempt of the night and the Bulldogs weren’t fooled at all. Bulldog sophomore Ben Strzyzewski leapt to make the interception and gave the Bulldogs the ball back at their own 43-yard line. Strzyzewski, sophomore safety Carson Gray, and senior cornerback Vinny Yado all finished with six total tackles behind Michael.

After a one-yard run by Bulldog senior Mitch Reynolds that put the Bulldogs at their own 44-yard line, a 50-yard Murphy run set the Bulldogs up with a first and goal at the Cardinal six-yard line.

Two plays later, Murphy would score from 1-yard out on a second effort push on a run with 1:28 to put the Bulldogs up 28-21. 

“We had a big run that put us in the red zone,” said Murphy. “Once we got to that 1-yard line my offensive line made a good push and my two tailbacks got me in.” 

“He’s a playmaker,” said Lucas of Murphy, who has shown he can play at the varsity level in his first year on the varsity team. “He might not be the fastest, tallest, or strongest, but he’s a tough son of a gun. When you’ve got Kyle and him on the same page, they’re making throws because they both understand the position and where they have to be.” 

Out of their element, the Cardinals had to come out passing with little time left and a fourth down play on their own 32-yard line ended in a fumble and a recovery by Bulldog junior safety Chase Kemp. 

The Bulldogs took over and took a knee to claim their ninth district title in program history, their second in a row and fifth in the last six years, and second under second year coach Lucas. 

“We’re 11-0,” said Lucas. “District champs. League champs. We’ve done a lot of good things. We’re gonna enjoy this one, probably more than last week, because we checked off another thing on our season’s goal list. District champs. We did that tonight, the next one is a big one. We’re just gonna keep working.”

Photos by Lynne Beauchamp

Photos by Lynne Beauchamp

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