Helena’s time: Huskies dominate Pelham for first win in rivalry

Published 11:45 pm Friday, October 25, 2019

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor 

HELENA – A season of firsts for the Helena Huskies picked up a welcome addition on Friday, Oct. 25, when the Huskies took down rival Pelham for the first time in school history to complete region play undefeated on senior night.

Helena, who entered the night 0-3 all-time against Pelham, not only picked up the victory, but did so in dominant fashion with a new school record of 62 points behind six touchdowns from Marquis Johnson.

“I’m just tickled to death for my seniors that bought in and welcomed me here and my staff,” head coach Richie Busby said. “They had never beaten them before and for them to go out like this as region champs and beating Chelsea and Pelham, it’s pretty special.

“I think it shows we’re a tough team, and I don’t know how good we’ll be in the future, but I know tonight, we were better.”

And overall, Helena was better, but early on, it was the Panthers who struck first and looked to be ready to make it four wins in a row.

On Pelham’s opening drive, quarterback Xavier Lankford hit Christian Pritchett on back-to-back big plays, one for 37 yards and the other for a 30-yard touchdown that put the Panthers on top 7-0 with 9:16 to play in the first quarter.

Then, on Helena’s first drive of the game, Pelham forced a quick three-and-out, which set the Huskies up to punt the ball deep in their own territory. The Panthers took advantage and came after the punt, blocking it and taking over at the Helena 22-yard line.

The Huskies’ defense stepped up and held Pelham to a made 34-yard field goal from Salvador Jimenez, but the Panthers still led 10-0 through the first six minutes of the game.

“They’re good on offense and they do a great job,” Busby said. “They found something and exposed it, and they hit it a couple of times. We made an adjustment, but you know, we’ve kind of done that all year, so you kind of expect it and don’t see a whole lot of panic in the kids.”

With Busby making sure his players knew what they were doing wrong as well as the team having a calm demeanor in a two-score deficit, Helena came right back with an answer.

The Huskies used a key third-down pass of 11 yards from Luke Stamba to Will Griffith early in the drive, before Johnson, Stamba and Antonio Ruiz all played a part running the football as well as two facemask penalties. Eventually, the drive was capped off by a short 2-yard touchdown from Johnson, the first of many on the night.

Pelham came back with an answer early in the second quarter. The Panthers ended up with a first-and-goal situation, and even earned third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, but Helena’s defense made another strong stand and held Pelham to another field goal.

Now trailing 13-7 with 10:16 left in the half, Helena decided enough was enough.

Not only did the Huskies put together a powerful scoring drive that saw them take the lead, but Stamba and Johnson carried the ball on every play during the 88-yard drive with Johnson eventually putting his team on top 14-13 with another 2-yard touchdown run.

That touchdown with 5:15 to play in the second quarter became the first of four from the Huskies in the final six minutes of the half.

With Pelham looking to answer Helena taking the lead, Lankford ended up fumbling an exchanged with Dylan Peterson, which led to the Huskies recovering at the Panthers’ 25-yard line.

Three plays later, and Johnson had run the ball three times for all 25 of those yards, including a 6-yard touchdown run to put Helena on top 21-13.

In a déjà vu moment on the ensuing kickoff, a Helena defender was able to rip the ball out of the hands of the Pelham ball carrier just before going out of bounds, which gave the Huskies the ball right back at the Panthers’ 30-yard line.

Three plays later, and Johnson had run the ball three more times for all 30 yards, this time capping off the drive with another 2-yard touchdown run.

But Johnson wasn’t done.

The junior running back got one more opportunity in the final two minutes of the half. With the Huskies starting at their own 26, Johnson toted the ball 39 yards on the first play of the drive, and eventually went on to cap off a quick five-play drive with a 7-yard touchdown run, which became his fifth of the first half.

“He’s such a tough runner and is so strong in his lower body,” Busby said of his star running back. “I’m glad he’s on my team.”

Now trailing 35-13 after holding a 13-7 lead just a few minutes earlier, Pelham needed an answer before the half, but only had 37 seconds to do it.

After three quick passes, however, Pelham was able to connect on a close to 50-yard pass from Lankford to Walker Lyles for a touchdown in the final seconds of the half to make the halftime score 35-20.

That, however, was the final score of the night for the Panthers, as Helena came out of the locker room determined to close out the historic win.

The Huskies not only scored on the opening drive of the half thanks to a Stamba touchdown run, but scored 27 more points in the half with Stamba adding two more touchdowns, one from 36 yards and another from 26 yards, while Johnson added his sixth touchdown on 9-yard run at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

“It’s a dream come true,” Johnson said. “We’ve never beaten them and we’re going to keep on pushing until next year when we play them again and beat them again. We knew it was going to be a battle tonight. It’s enemy against enemy. We know each other and at the end of the day a lot of us are friends, but it’s enemy against enemy on the field.”

With the win, Helena improved to 8-1 overall and finished region play undefeated at 6-0 for the first time ever. The Huskies will now travel to Calera to close out the regular season on Friday, Nov. 1, before hosting Clay-Chalkville in the first round of the playoffs.

Pelham saw its three-game winning streak come to an end as well as the season, as the Panthers closed 2019 with a 3-7 overall record with a young team.