Chelsea takes down Briarwood in thrilling contest

Published 1:50 am Saturday, August 29, 2015

Matt Marquet falls forward into the end zone during Chelsea's 21-16 win at Briarwood in the opening game of the season for both teams. (For the Reporter / Dawn Harrison)

Matt Marquet falls forward into the end zone during Chelsea’s 21-16 win at Briarwood in the opening game of the season for both teams. (For the Reporter / Dawn Harrison)

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

NORTH SHELBY – In the game of the night across the county, bar none, the Chelsea Hornets outlasted the Briarwood Lions on the road in the first game of the year for both teams, 21-16.

As this was the first game of the year for both sides, both started out understandably shaky. The first offensive play of the game, Briarwood quarterback William Gray threw deep into double coverage and got picked off. Chelsea promptly turned the ball over on downs on its first drive of the game, and the tone for the first quarter was set. The highlight of the first quarter was a pair of punts, one by each side, that pinned the other team deep in its own territory. The game was tied 0-0 after one.

Midway through the second quarter, the Lions had pinned Chelsea deep in Hornet territory, but a solid punt from Justin Painter, one of Chelsea’s senior linebackers who moonlights as the punter, was bobbled by sophomore running back/return man Carson Eddy, and Chelsea had new life with the ball and a fresh set of downs around the 50. A few plays later, the Hornets used some trickery as AJ Jones took a pitch from quarterback Matt Marquet and tossed a pass to a streaking Jay Vickers, who scored standing up. Chelsea didn’t attempt an extra point all night, and couldn’t convert the two-point conversion and led 6-0 in the second quarter.

A Tyler Thomas 20-yard field goal ended the half, and Chelsea led 9-0 at the break.

A lightning delay postponed halftime for roughly an hour, and after the game started back up, Briarwood seemed to respond better than Chelsea. Josh Brower pumped in a 25-yard field goal in the third quarter to bring the Lions within striking distance at 9-3.

The next drive, Zalon Reynolds and an ill-timed Briarwood late-hit penalty set the Hornets up in good field position quickly before Marquet ran one in from 30 yards out to extend the Chelsea lead to 15-3.

The next series, facing third and long, Gray completed a 37-yard pass to wide out Kolby Kwarcinski that put the ball on the four-yard line before Sam Sherrod punched it in from four yards out on a misdirection counter to pull Briarwood back close at 15-10, which is how the third quarter ended.

After both teams traded possessions, Briarwood got the ball deep in its’ own territory with 8:01 left on the clock. The Lions utilized a strange formation at occasion all night, where they would use just three down linemen, one receiver out to the left, and the rest of the team bunched up on the right side of the field. This formation worked on a fairly regular basis all night for Briarwood, and Gray completed a few passes out of that formation at the start of the drive.

The Lions endured three fourth downs on the ensuing drives and a number of penalties as well, but kept driving down the field. At fourth and six inside the Chelsea 20, Gray avoided the rush, juked and dodged to give himself more time, then threw a dart to Eddy for a first down. Eddy later punched it in on fourth and goal from the one yard line to give Briarwood the late lead, 16-15, with 2:40 left.

Marquet showed why he has earned the trust of the Chelsea coaching staff on the ensuring drive. Down a point, on the road, the junior responded. After a few first down runs, the Hornets were in Briarwood territory with under two minutes left. Then, with under a minute to play, senior receiver Ben Praytor got behind the Briarwood defense, and Marquet found him for a 45-yard touchdown grab to give Chelsea the 21-16 lead with 56.8 seconds left in the game.

On the ensuing drive, Calen Russell picked off Gray to seal the deal for the Hornets.

“I don’t know if we played real well offensively, but Briarwood had a lot to do with that,” Chelsea head coach Chris Elmore said after the game. “They’ve got a real good defensive line, we had a tough time blocking them. Luckily, our defense came to play tonight, they made a bunch of plays. We might not have deserved the win, Briarwood might have outplayed us in the second half and probably did, but I’m proud of our kids for finding a way.”

Chelsea moves to 1-0, while Briarwood falls to 0-1.