Helena wins frenzied thriller against rival Pelham to remain unbeaten

Published 10:56 pm Friday, September 17, 2021

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

PELHAM – As the ball dropped out of the sky and into the back of the end zone with no time left, Helena football fans peeked through their fingers with fear after several miraculous plays in a row on Friday night, Sept. 17.

But as the ball narrowly missed a Pelham receiver, the Helena fans went from covering their eyes to throwing them in the air in celebration of a 37-34 win against their rival to remain unbeaten on the season at 5-0 and atop the region at 2-0.

“That was an unbelievable high school football game,” Busby said. “Maybe one of the best I’ve ever been a part of. I know our kids play hard, and they play for that ‘H’ on their chest. It’s about playing for this community, the name on the back of their jersey and each other.”

The win, however, didn’t come easy.

The Panthers actually took a 22-16 halftime lead after a game of momentum swings started in the first half.

That was followed by a defensive slugfest in the third quarter with neither team scoring points.

Both, however, more than made up for it in the final quarter.

On the first play of the fourth, Helena scored to cap off a 13-play drive when Joseph Roberto went in from 5 yards out to give the Huskies a 23-22 advantage.

Then, it looked like Pelham was going to drive right back down the field, but as the rain started falling, the Panthers had a bad snap on the ground recovered by Tyler Tucker.

One play later, Helena’s Jordan Washington went 80 yards to the house for a 30-22 lead with 7:38 to play.

The Huskies then forced a three-and-out and got the ball back, but on third down deep in Pelham territory, Helena tried to pass on third down and it was intercepted.

The Panthers took over and in two plays hit a 70-yard touchdown pass from Will Lankford to Darius Copeland to draw within two points with 3:04 left.

Things got even more interesting when Helena fumbled the ball away on the first play of the ensuing drive, which was recovered by Pelham’s Brayden Marlow.

The Panthers quickly capitalized when Lankford hit Christian Pritchett for a 15-yard touchdown pass to make it 35-30 with 2:07 to play.

In a sudden back-and-forth battle, however, that left Helena too much time.

The Huskies came right back as Mac Turner hit JC Sivley for a 70-yard touchdown pass up the sideline to make it 37-34 with 1:51 to play.

It looked over on the ensuing drive when Lankford was sacked on fourth-and-18 with 53 seconds left, but an unnecessary roughness kept the drive alive.

Ultimately, Pelham couldn’t get any closer than the 48-yard line and settled for a long Hail Mary attempt as time expired, which was just narrowly incomplete.

“We told our kids all week, games like this, they come down to somebody making a play,” Busby said. “You have to block, you have to tackle, play football and somebody is going to have to make a play to win it. JC made that play there at the end to win it. Then our defense got that last stop”

For Busby, the win was even more special with his dad being put on a ventilator in the hospital the night before the game.

“It has been a tough week for me and my family,” Busby said. “I have to believe my dad was somewhere watching, but boy he would have been proud of the kids tonight. He’s always asking about the kids, and last night before they put him on the ventilator, the last thing he told me was, ‘I’m not going to stop fighting and you go get ‘em.”

Helena was led by Washington on offense with 157 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, while Sivley added 121 yards and two touchdowns receiving. Turner finished with 170 yards and two touchdowns.

Conner Pugh led the defense with 7.5 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss and one sack.

Pelham was led by Lankford with four touchdowns and 372 yards passing, while Copeland totaled 189 yards and two touchdowns. Jaxson Drake led the defense with nine tackles, while Marlowe and Miles combined for eight with two turnovers.

In the early part of the game, the momentum swings started early in the first half.

Pelham got the ball first and scored in four plays when Copeland was able to escape on a short pass from Lankford and go 43 yards for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead in the first 2:20 of the game.

Helena answered with a methodical 15-play drive that ate up more than seven minutes of clock with several runs to the right, testing that side of Pelham’s defensive line.

The drive was eventually capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run from Dalton Lewellyn.

That became the start of 16 in a row for the Huskies to take the lead.

Following a bad snap over the head of the Pelham punter on the ensuing drive, Helena got two points on a safety for a 9-7 lead.

Then, after a low snap on another Pelham punt two drives later, the Huskies capitalized on good field position when Turner hit Sivley for a 27-yard touchdown pass for a 16-7 lead with 6:15 left in the half.

But just as it looked like momentum was slipping away from the Panthers on their home field, they bounced back on the next drive. After a solid kick return from Jamal Miles, the Panthers went 55 yards and got within two of the lead when Gabe Gamble carried the ball in from 11 yards out to make it 16-14.

Pelham then forced a big three-and-out defensively, the Panthers went 59 yards to end the half. Following big plays from Kamari Hollis, Gamble and Lankford, as well as a pass interference on third-and-9, Pelham scored on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Lankford to Hollis.

Copeland then added a 2-point conversion, and Pelham capped off 15 unanswered points to end the half and take a 22-16 lead into the break. 

That led to the fireworks of the second half.

Helena now has a two-game win streak against Pelham in head-to-head matchups.

The panthers fell to 3-2 overall, but are 2-1 in region play.