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Photo by Alan Ashley. Chelsea Head Coach Brad Bush.

By Allen Wright

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 Ypsilanti Grizzlies. It became a battle in the trenches between two powerhouse defenses leading to a smash-mouth game of old-school football between two very evenly matched teams.

The Bulldogs prevailed, 14-7, securing them 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. The Bulldogs were able to stop them on fourth down and take over the ball.

Chelsea then moved the ball through a mix of runs and short passes and drove 94 yards using good clock control, finishing the drive with an Aaron McDaniels’ 3-yard run into the end zone. This gave the Bulldogs an early 7-0 lead after Cullen Lindsay’s extra point.

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 late in the third quarter when Harmon was able to connect with his receiver Jalen Allen down the right sideline for a 39-yard score. The extra point tied the game at 7.

The Grizzlies kicked the ball short to prevent a big return, but the Bulldogs were able to get a big 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. McDaniels scored again from 1-yard out and after the Lindsay extra point, it was the Bulldogs with a hard fought, 14-7 lead.

But there was still almost a whole quarter of football left and the Grizzlies were not quitters. Despite a sparse home crowd, they persevered. But the powerful and resilient Chelsea defense would not break as they made hit after hit, tackle after tackle and kept the heat turned up.

As the Grizzlies were driving to tie it up, Chelsea senior Doug Zarinnia came up big  with an interception to stop the drive. Chelsea would move the ball in clock control and took a knee in victory formation giving them the victory.

It was their sixth win of the season, securing them a playoff spot for the 18th time in 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 had their playoff hopes doused.

“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.

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 with 5 tackles, a sack, 3 tackles for loss, forced a fumble, and had a big fumble recovery for the Bulldogs.

Chelsea returns home to host Ann Arbor Huron Friday night. It will be Chelsea’s homecoming. Kickoff is a 7 p.m.

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