It had been raining all day Friday leaving the sloped football field in Ypsilanti muddy and slippery before it welcomed its gridiron warriors to it. As the temperature dropped, a foggy mist hung over the field resulting in conservative playing between the visiting Chelsea Bulldogs and the home Grizzlies. It became a battle in the trenches between two powerhouse defenses leading to a smashmouth game of old-school football between two very evenly matched teams. But it was the Bulldogs who would prevail with a 14-7 victory securing them with a playoff spot and a Southeast Conference White Division Title.
The Grizzlies received the ball first and drove downfield and had a first and goal at the Bulldogs 5 yard line but strong defensive play kept them out of the end zone as the Bulldogs were able to stop them on fourth down and take over possession.
Chelsea then was able to move the ball through a mix of runs and short passes and drove 94 yards using good clock control and finished the drive with an Aaron McDaniels 3 yard run into the end zone giving the Bulldogs an early 7-0 lead with Cullen Lindsay’s extra point being good.
With the weather and the field conditions, both teams tried to stick to a ground game. The Bulldogs hardnosed defense forced Grizzly quarterbacks Matt Harmon and Garvin Crout out of the pocket forcing them to scramble or throw errant passes. This would be an early pattern that would continue throughout the night.
With Chelsea up 7-0 Ypsilanti finally got the break it needed as late in the third quarter, Harmon was able to connect with his receiver Jalen Allen down the right sideline for a big 39-yard score and with the extra point tied the game up at 7.
The Grizzlies kicked the ball short to prevent a big return but the Bulldogs were able to get a good return from Kyle Simmerman to set them up at their own 43-yard line. Several passes to Hunter Neff and good ground gains from Jacob Grubbs and McDaniels were able to lead the Bulldogs to the end zone as McDaniels scored again from 1 yard out and after the Lindsay extra point, it was the Bulldogs with a hard fought for 14-7 lead.
But there was still almost a whole quarter of football left and the Grizzlies were not quitters. Although they sparsely had much of a crowd behind them in their homestands, despite it being their homecoming, they still persevered. But the powerful resilient Chelsea defense would not break as they made hit after hit, tackle after tackle, and kept the heat turned up on the Grizzlies.
As the Grizzlies were driving for the tying score it was Chelsea defensive back Doug Zarinnia coming up big at the right moment with a much-needed interception to stop the drive. Chelsea would move the ball in clock control and took a knee in victory formation giving them the victory and their sixth win on the season securing them a playoff spot for the 18th team out of the last 19 years.
“That’s a good football team,” Chelsea Head Coach Brad Bush said of his tough opponent. “We played a conservative game because of not just the weather, but because of their defense. They are much better than their record shows.”
The Grizzlies drop to 3-4 on the season and have their playoff hopes doused. They’ve lost several close games on the season. They were led by Harmon who threw for 81 yards and ran for 14. Emerson Wilson led them on the ground with 89 yards while Allen had 53 yards receiving. Deon Willis led the defense with 9 tackles.
“We played through a lot of issues this week but we battled through them and put them behind us and stuck to the game plan to get the great team win,” Chelsea quarterback Thomas Steele stated. “I’m proud of our team and how we played”
Steele would finish on the night with 144 yards through the air and 20 on the ground. Chelsea’s leading rusher was McDaniels with 59 yards while Neff made several spectacular catches finishing with 5 for 115 yards.
“I’m proud of all you guys,” Head Coach Bush told his team after the game as they gathered around him. “This is a big moment, you’ll remember this night forever. You stuck to the gameplan and we had no turnovers. You played great, the defense came up big, and I couldn’t be more proud of you all.”
The Chelsea defense has been outstanding all season only giving up 71 points so far. And they didn’t fail to disappoint as they forced several turnovers on the night. Sophomore Garret Steele led the Bulldogs with 8 tackles and 1 interception. Owen Nikischer had a huge night with 5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss, and a fumble recovery. Dion Mite had a sack, a tackle for loss, and forced a fumble.
“This means a lot, it’s a night I’ll never forget,” said Senior Defensive End and Western Michigan University commit Ronnie Buford. “This was more than just another win, this is for all those who came before us and the entire Chelsea community. I couldn’t be happier right now.”
Buford was all over the field and seemed to be in on every play as the 6 foot 5-inch speedster finished with a huge night as he had 5 tackles, a sack, 3 tackles for loss, forced a fumble, and had a big fumble recovery for his Bulldogs.
Chelsea returns home to host Ann Arbor Huron next Friday night. It will be Chelsea’s homecoming. Kickoff is a 7 p.m.