Chelsea comes up short in comeback bid

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

CHELSEA – Coming off a season where the Chelsea Hornets were 8-3 and had an offense that scored 41.4 points per game, if you would have said they lost their regular-season finale to finish the 2017 season 2-8, you would’ve thought heads would be hung and head coach Chris Elmore would have been upset.

When the Hornets fell 37-29 to Cullman to end the 2017 season on Friday, Nov. 3, that became a reality, and while Elmore and his team were disappointed in the overall aspect of the season; they also knew how much they had to be proud of.

“Obviously we’re disappointed,” Elmore said after the season finale. “2-8 was never in the plans. We knew we had a tough schedule but had some nights where we felt like we could’ve won, but the ball just didn’t bounce our way and we didn’t get the breaks when we needed them.

“That being said, with the exception of the Wetumpka game we were in every game this year. They don’t give up. Most teams when they struggle, they give up on the season, but this team got better as the season went a long and is much better than week one, which just shows what kind of kids they are.”

It was a fighting attitude that continued until the very last seconds of their 2017 season had ticked off the clock as they battled to the end against Cullman.

Chelsea fell behind 17-0 early in the game and had dug themselves into a deep hole.

“It was the same song, but a different verse,” Elmore said. “Some unfortunate things early got us behind 17-0. We could’ve laid down and gotten beat 41-7 but we came back.”

The comeback started midway through the third quarter when quarterback Turner Griffin found Colton Carter for a 19-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 17-7.

It took less than two minutes for Cullman to respond with a score of its own to take back a commanding 23-7 lead.

The back-and-forth saga continued, however, as almost three minutes after Cullman extended its lead, Chelsea answered right back with a strong 19-yard touchdown run from Kendrick Simpson. A 2-point conversion cut Cullman’s lead to 23-15 with one quarter remaining.

“Kendrick had such a good night and I’m proud of him for improving in a tough situation this year,” Elmore said of his senior back on senior night.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Bearcats went on what seemed to be the momentum killer for Chelsea as they marched down the field on a 15-play drive to take a 30-15 lead with just 4:43 remaining.

The fight of the Hornets kicked in on the ensuing possession as Simpson punched in 9-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to eight at 30-22 again with 3:29 remaining.

Chelsea seemed to be in a good situation and like the Hornets would have a chance to get the ball back when they forced Cullman into a third-and-15, but Bearcats’ quarterback Fletcher Jennings found Reese Harbison for a 56-yard touchdown pass to instead extend their lead to 37-22 with 2:55 remaining.

The Hornets still didn’t go away and scored again less than two minutes later thanks to a Colby Lambert 18-yard touchdown reception to cut the lead to within eight for the third time.

After a failed onside kick attempt, however, Cullman was able to run the final seconds off the clock to preserve the win.

“There were three different times where we cut the lead to eight, but just couldn’t get closer,” Elmore said. “It wasn’t from a lack of effort though. I’m really, really proud of effort they showed tonight. Really encompasses what they showed this entire year.”

Collier Blair, just a freshman, and Simpson, both had strong nights to lead the Chelsea offense. Blair finished with 149 yards on 21 carries, while Simpson had 163 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries.

“We really got some stuff going tonight and really should have had more points,” Elmore said. “Simpson and Blair had great nights and showed a lot of fight for us. Collier isn’t really a freshman for us. He played a lot bigger than he is and that should really springboard him into next season. I also couldn’t be more proud of Kendrick on senior night.”

Chelsea finished the 2017 season 2-8, but ended up winning two of its last three games of the season for a momentum boost heading into 2018.