A deep dive into the (currently) undefeated Chelsea Hornets

Published 2:04 pm Thursday, September 24, 2015

Matt Marquet and the Chelsea offense has set an impressive scoring pace through the first half of the season. Does this Chelsea team have what it takes to be an elite team this year? (Contributed / Cari Dean)

Matt Marquet and the Chelsea offense has set an impressive scoring pace through the first half of the season. Does this Chelsea team have what it takes to be an elite team this year? (Contributed / Cari Dean)

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

Earlier this week, we took a look at one of the two undefeated teams left in the county, Montevallo, and tried to determine where the Bulldogs fall among the lexicon of elite 4A teams across the state. The conclusion? What Montevallo has done is certainly noteworthy and deserves to be acknowledged and praised, and the fact that head coach Andrew Zow has gotten his team to this point is noteworthy enough, but until Montevallo gets into the meat of its schedule in early October, judgment has to be postponed. Now, let’s take a look at the other undefeated team in the county, Chelsea, and try to answer the same question.

It’s important to note, just a season ago Chelsea was in the exact same position it is now, 4-0 through four weeks of the season with wins over the same four opponents in Briarwood, Southside Gadsden, Valley and Chilton County. Everything unfortunately fell apart in the back half of the season when Chelsea finished 1-4 and missed the playoffs. Will this year be different? Let’s look.

The Hornets are averaging eight points more per game through four games this year than they were a season ago, and have extended their margin of victory from 15.5 points per game through four games last year to 26.5 points per game this year. That 26.5-point margin of victory is sixth-best mark in the state in class 6A and is the top in the county. The offensive production, at 39 points per game, is eighth-best in the state in class 6A so far and is a byproduct of a maturing and healthy crop of talent.

The primary factor in Chelsea’s increased offensive production is the balance and consistency from its talented backfield trio of Matt Marquet, AJ Jones and Zalon Reynolds. Junior quarterback Marquet is 29-for-48 throwing the ball so far this year, which works out to a completion percentage north of 60 percent, for 356 yards, five scores and two picks through four games. He has thrown for more yards each game than the one prior and led a last-minute fourth quarter comeback drive in the season opener against Briarwood to secure the first win of the season. Marquet has also accounted for 231 yards rushing on just 24 attempts, good for over nine yards per carry, and has scored four touchdowns on the ground as well.

Jones, healthy this season for the first time in a year, is making a strong case as one of the best backs in the county and has found the end zone 10 times this year. He has rushed for 344 yards on 54 carries, an average of over six yards per touch, and has scored seven rushing touchdowns, two receiving touchdowns, one touchdown via punt return and has even thrown for a score to boot. His backfield counterpart Reynolds, also healthy after suffering a broken foot late last season, has rushed for 287 yards on 45 touches, also good for an average of north of six yards per touch and has found the end zone twice.

Each head of the Hornets’ three-headed backfield monster is gaining, on average, over six yards per carry through four games, that’s incredible. It is a testament to not only those three, but also to the job Chelsea’s senior-laden offensive line has done through the first part of the year, which is led by Ben Haskins, Rod Tyson and Joey Chiofalo. Those holes don’t open themselves up in the trenches. That kind of rushing attack, along with Jay Vickers’ 170 yards receiving and three touchdowns, is what has made this Chelsea offense elite.

Defensively, Chelsea has been just as good. Behind the play of the Hornets three senior linebackers Blake Travelstead, David Hardenburgh and Justin Painter, and a secondary led by a number of seniors as well in Michael Waller, Calen Russell, Luke Ganus and Christian James, Chelsea is giving up just 12.8 points per contest. That number is eighth-best in the state in 6A as well, and is the top mark in the county.

All of this, all of these numbers, are overwhelming signs that Chelsea is legitimate. The Hornets have a high concentration of seniors in key positions, a strong offensive line and the playmakers in the backfield who all have a nose for the end zone. What’s the problem then? The problem, if there is one, is the same issue Montevallo has, a lack of quality opponents.

Through Sept. 19, Chelsea’s first four opponents are a pedestrian 8-11. Southside Gadsden is the only team to eclipse the three-win mark in that span of time, and the Hornets have yet to play a ranked opponent. The other issue with Chelsea’s hot start is that we’ve seen this before, just a season ago at this point the same conversation could have been had. Chelsea is 3-7 in the last five weeks of the season under current head coach Chris Elmore, which is not a mark that gets teams in the playoffs. If there was ever a team to break that trend, it’s this one, but until the Hornets can win games late in the season against quality opponents like Opelika and Benjamin Russell, there will be a grain of skepticism.

Statistically, this is the best team in the county at the half way mark. The Hornets seem to have all the pieces in place for a playoff run. This team is one of the best teams in the county, and right now is one of the best in 6A, and has the numbers to back that up. What happens moving forward is obviously up in the air, but this Hornets’ squad seems to have the makings of a contender.