(Chelsea Update would like to thank Rich Rezler for this game story and Mark Bogarin for these game photos.)
The Chelsea High School football team’s victory over Haslett on Friday night officially clinched the program’s 14th straight MHSAA playoff appearance.
But players and coaches point to a team meeting in early September as the most important moment in the 2012 season.
“That really changed the whole culture of the team,” coach Brad Bush said after his team beat Haslett, 28-14 at Jerry Niehaus Field for its sixth straight victory and an automatic postseason berth.
After starting the season 0-3, Chelsea needed to win the remainder of its regular season games to assure itself another spot in the playoffs. The Bulldogs did just that after a group of seniors called a player-only meeting to work things out.
“We do a ton of things geared toward leadership in the offseason and it was bad early,” Bush said. “But after the third game, it was incredible how those guys got together and met as a group – the whole team, without any coaches – and kind of flipped the switch on how to practice.”
Senior linebacker Michael Hovater led that team meeting.
“After that third loss, we were just tired of it,” he said. “The senior leadership to that point was really non-existent. But I think the seniors really realized it was up to the seniors to help us win. A lot of seniors really stepped up.
“It was all about practice. Practice makes perfect and if you don’t do well in practice, you don’t do well in games. We tried to get a little competitive, a little smack talking in practice, just get the players into it. I think that’s what really helped.”
The turnaround resulted in six straight wins, a Southeastern Conference White Division title and a spot in the playoffs against an opponent to be announced on Sunday night.
The Chelsea offense continued its string of strong showings against Haslett Friday night, led by senior tailback Berkley Edwards.
Edwards rushed for 245 yards and four touchdowns in the victory. During the Bulldogs’ six-game win streak, Edwards has averaged 187 rushing yards and has scored at least two touchdowns in each victory.
“Once we started 0-3, everybody thought we were in trouble,” said senior quarterback Logan Brown. “But winning at Adrian was huge, and so was beating Tecumseh to win the SEC title. (Friday), we just came out balling and got the win.
“Six in a row and we’re in the playoffs. It’s crazy.”
Bush was equally impressed with his defense against a Haslett team that he thought could be his team’s strongest offensive opponent of the season.
After scoring on the game’s opening possession to take a 7-0 lead, Haslett didn’t threaten again until Chelsea had built a comfortable 28-7 lead.
“The fact that we were able to play the kind of defense we did was very gratifying because we were really concerned about them on offense,” Bush said.
Hovater led the team with eight tackles, including three quarterback sacks. Alex Maloney and Sean Lungo made six tackles each and Jay Szcodronski had three tackles-for-loss.
Alex Bielecki (51 yards) and Colton Platt (32) added to Chelsea’s total of 362 rushing yards, while Brown went 2-for-4 passing with completions to Nate Bossory and Luke Hollandsworth.
Zach Rabbitt was perfect on four point-after kicks.
Notably, seniors accounted for all 28 of Chelsea’s points and 384 of the Bulldogs’ 395 yards of total offense. Defensively, seniors made 46 of the team’s 50 tackles.
Not bad for a group that had its leadership ability questioned after the first three games of this season.
And that, Bush said, can only help when the Bulldogs go after their 15th straight playoff appearance in 2013.
“These juniors now, no matter what happens next year, they’ll have seen what leadership is,” Bush said. “They witnessed it. That’s how you stay good.”