Chelsea loses first game of the season to Opelika
Published 10:55 pm Friday, October 2, 2015
By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor
CHELSEA – The visiting and 6A third-ranked Opelika Bulldogs showed why they are considered one of the best teams across the state, regardless of classification, on Oct. 2 as the Bulldogs came to town to take on Chelsea in a battle of two undefeated teams. After a strong first half that saw Chelsea take a 17-13 lead into the break, the Bulldogs ripped off 27 second half points and held the Hornets to just one touchdown, winning 40-25.
Opelika struck first early in the first quarter on its first drive of the game following a Chelsea three-and-out that saw the Bulldogs get the ball in Chelsea territory to take a 7-0 lead before the crowd had even settled into their seats. Another three plays and another punt for the home team was not the start Chris Elmore’s squad was hoping for, but a muffed Opelika punt return gave Chelsea a needed boost early in the game as the Hornets recovered in Opelika territory. The Bulldogs defense held in its own red zone, however, and on fourth down Chelsea attempted some trickery with a fake field goal attempt that was blown up in the backfield, leaving Chelsea empty handed on its first trip to the red zone.
Chelsea’s senior-laden defense played well all through the first half, and after a few three-and-outs Chelsea was able to get a drive started. After a nice pitch and catch from Matt Marquet to AJ Jones and a couple positive runs from Zalon Reynolds, Chelsea was once again in striking distance. Marquet scrambled to his right inside the Opelika 25 before throwing across his body all the way across the field to the left where tight end Zach Adams was wating at the one yard line. Reynolds plunged in from a yard out to tie the game 7-7 in the second quarter.
Opelika’s quarterback, Jacob Bentley, was exceptional all night, but threw a pick on the third play of the ensuing drive as Chelsea defensive back Calen Russell jumped a route on the right side of the field, which eventually led to a Marquet two-yard dive for a score and a 14-7 lead with just over six minutes left in the half. Bentley later found the end zone on the ground, and Chelsea’s Tyler Thomas added a field goal before the half to give the Hornets the 17-13 lead.
Opelika’s superior size and athleticism began to wear down Chelsea in the second half. After a touchdown on its opening drive Chelsea was never able to regain the lead. Down 33-17 late in the third quarter, Marquet did what he does best, make something out of nothing. On the second play of a drive that started at Chelsea’s own 40, Marquet got around the left edge, scampered 60 yards and dove across the left pylon for the game’s most exciting touchdown. He lunged across the goal line for a successful two-point conversion attempt to bring Chelsea back within striking distance at 33-25.
The Bulldogs punched in another touchdown early in the fourth quarter to make the score 40-25. On the ensuing Chelsea drive, the Hornets converted two fourth downs, sustaining an impressive six and a half minute drive down inside the Opelika 10-yard line. On fourth down and seven, Marquet was flushed out of the pocket and threw a ball up for grabs, which was picked off, virtually ending the game.
“If anybody is better than them I’d like to see them,” Elmore said after the game. “Our kids were ready to play, they’re just that good. They’re well coached and their quarterback is phenomenal. You have to play perfect to beat them and we didn’t. I’m proud of our kids for how they played tonight.
Marquet was 7/21 throwing the ball for 114 yards and two picks. He also led the Hornets in rushing yards with 81 on 11 attempts. Jones racked up 68 yards on 21 attempts as well while Reynolds went for 49 yards on 16 attempts. Linebacker David Hardenbaugh led the defense with 11 tackles, five solo and six assisted.
Chelsea will have to regroup in a hurry as the Hornets travel to Benjamin Russell next Friday.