First-half miscues prevent Helena from upsetting No. 5 Hueytown

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

HUEYTOWN – Helena was faced with a tall task going on the road to play the No. 5 Hueytown Golden Gophers on a short week, and if not for some first-half miscues, the Huskies would’ve had a chance in a game where they fell 32-24 on Thursday, Aug. 29.

The first-half mistakes for Helena included a safety, fumble and a muffed punt, but Hueytown was still never able to put the game away completely.

“We were on a short week and came off a huge emotional game and we didn’t practice very well early in the week,” Helena head coach Richie Busby said. “It was a trap game for us basically and we played with a lot of emotion against McAdory and come back and play a top five team and it showed early. We were sluggish and it showed on the field. But, the key is we rebounded from that and came back in the second half and played like we can play.”

Helena came up with a big defensive play early in the first quarter, as defensive back Jade Hildreth picked off the ball at the 2-yard line as the Golden Gophers were deep inside the Huskies’ territory.

In the shadow of their own goalposts, Helena’s Marquise Johnson was unable to break free as Hueytown came up with a safety to take an early 2-0 lead. This would be the first of three crucial mistakes in the first half for Helena.

Following the safety, Hueytown took advantage of the good field position as senior running back and Alabama commit Roydell Williams scored on a 3-yard touchdown run and converted a two-point conversion to make it 10-0 Golden Gophers with 1:53 to go in the first quarter.

Things were looking bleak for Helena following another turnover on its next offensive possession.

Helena quarterback Luke Stamba scrambled to try and make a play on third down but lost the ball while being sacked as Hueytown recovered near midfield.

A few plays later, Williams would score his second rushing touchdown of the game on a 6-yard run to make it 16-0 after the failed two-point conversion.

The one bright spot for Helena in the first half was on its next offensive possession trailing by two scores. The Huskies mixed in both pass and run plays where Johnson finished off the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run. Helena cut Hueytown’s lead to 16-8 after the successful two-point conversion with 5:45 to go in the first half.

The final tough play for Helena in the first half was a turnover following a nice defensive stand. After holding Hueytown to a three-and-out, the Huskies muffed the ensuing punt that the Golden Gophers recovered at Helena’s 30-yard line.

The next play, Hueytown lofted a 30-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-8 Golden Gophers at the half.

In the second half, Helena began to overcome its early mistakes and settle in.

After a long drive that stalled on a turnover on downs to start the third quarter, Helena made another stop defensively.

Following the stop, Stamba hit a wide open 49-yard touchdown pass down the sideline to Antonio Ruiz to make it 24-14 with 5:54 to go in the third quarter after the failed two-point conversion.

The Helena defense would hold Hueytown scoreless in the third quarter, as the Huskies trailed by 10 going into the final 12 minutes.

Facing a fourth-and-3 at the Hueytown 44-yard line, Stamba found Ruiz again for a 39-yard play down the sideline for a first-and-goal at the Hueytown 5-yard line. Two plays later, Stamba ran it in for a touchdown diving over the left pylon to make it 24-21 Hueytown with 7:46 to go in the game and all the momentum on the Helena side.

Following the score, Hueytown’s star running back showed why he’ll be playing at the next level, as Williams broke tackles and raced for a 77-yard touchdown extending the Golden Gophers lead to 32-21 with seven minutes to play.

“He’s the best running back I’ve coached against in high school,” Busby said. “Other than the one play he broke in the fourth quarter, I think we held him up pretty good. He had some yardage but he didn’t hit us for a big play except that one time and it was a back breaker.”

After a successful 34-yard field goal to cut the lead to 32-24, Helena needed another defensive stop to have a chance for a late game-tying drive.

The Huskies defense got the stop, as Hueytown was forced to punt where Helena took over at their own 35-yard line with 2:10 to play trailing by eight.

After a big pass play to Hueytown’s 28-yard line, Stamba lofted a pass to the end zone that was nearly caught. After the incompletion, Helena faced a fourth-and-3 with 1:32 to go as Stamba was unable to avoid a sack and went down.

Following the turnover on downs, Hueytown was able to run out the clock and escape with the 32-24 win.

“We’ve been putting some adversity in both these games but our kids have battled back,” Busby said. “I think mainly that talks about the character of our kids and there’s no quit in them and I think we changed the culture in that. We got beat, and that was a hell of a high school football game. You get beat by the fifth ranked team in the state by eight points and play poorly in the first half. We made too many mistakes and didn’t do a very good job up front on offense so give credit to them. What we take out of this game is how we came back in the second half and laid it on the line. One catch away for going for two to tie the game.”

With the loss, Helena moved to 1-1 on the season and will have a bye next week. Helena’s next game will be Friday, Sept. 13, as the Huskies will travel to Homewood to begin region play.