Helena downs Calera in thriller for 2nd region title in 3 years

Published 11:21 pm Thursday, October 7, 2021

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HELENA – Leading 24-21 late in the fourth quarter and a region title on the line, Helena faced a fourth-and-7 at the Calera 34-yard line needing a first down.

Like they’ve done all season, the Huskies came through in a clutch moment as quarterback Mac Turner tossed a 34-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open JC Sivley to lift the Huskies to an exciting 31-21 win over the Eagles on Thursday, Oct. 7.

The fourth down play call was set up perfectly as Calera was looking for a short pass near the first down marker, but Helena head coach Richie Busby and his offensive staff had other plans.

“We’ve been throwing the stay screen right there into the boundary 7-8 times right there in the fourth quarter,” Busby said. “Coach Maples said, ‘Hey, I wanna throw the fox’ and sure enough the safety bit and it was wide open. It was a great play call.”

Time and time again the Helena Huskies have found themselves battle in close games and this one was no different as the Huskies battled back after losing a 17-0 halftime lead to move to 8-0 and capture the Class 6A Region 3 championship for the second time in the last three years.

In the first half, it was all Huskies as Helena’s first score came on a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown by Hunter Hale to make it 6-0.

Later in the second quarter, Helena pieced together a 13-play, 91-yard scoring drive that ended with a Joseph Roberto 15-yard touchdown run. Roberto also ran in the two-point conversion to extend Helena’s lead to 14-0.

After a Calera missed field goal, Helena tacked on a 32-yard field goal by Matthew Blocker at the end of the half to take a comfortable 17-0 lead into the locker room.

To open the second half, the lead was anything but safe, however, as the momentum began to shift after Calera stuffed Helena on a fourth-and-1 try to set the Eagles up with good field position.

A few minutes later, the Eagles were on the board after a 2-yard touchdown run by Chris Cotton to make it 17-7.

To make things even more interesting, Calera successfully recovered an onside kick after the touchdown.

On the very first play to follow, quarterback Preston Stokes threw a beautiful deep ball to Kobe Prentice for a 47-yard score that pulled the Eagles to within 17-14 in the blink of an eye.

Stokes finished the game 12-of-22 with 145 yards with one touchdown and an interception. He was, however, sacked seven times in the game.

“The one time they got the touchdown there, we put our defense in a bad spot by going for it, but I still think it was the right play call,” Busby said. “I think that kind of hurt our defense because they really were doing a great job, but we found a way to rebound and get our composure back together and do what we needed to do.”

Still leading by three heading into the fourth quarter, Helena was hit with another gut punch as the Huskies tried a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1 at the Calera 21-yard line. What ensued was the ball falling on the ground before it was eventually scooped up by Calera’s DeKendrick Bennett, who returned it 80 yards for a touchdown to give the Eagles their first lead of the game at 21-17 with 9:52 to play.

After allowing 21 unanswered points, Helena responded with a big drive thanks to their workhorse at running back—Jordan Washington. Eventually, Washington shook a defender and turned the corner where he dove for a 16-yard touchdown to give the Huskies the lead back at 24-21 with 4:33 to play.

Washington once again ran for 200-plus yards, rushing for 221 yards on 36 carries.

After stopping Calera and getting the ball back, the Huskies only needed a first down to run the clock out, but instead, Turner found Sivley behind the defense as Helena once again won in dramatic fashion.

“What it says? It says a lot about our kids, about our community, how they play for each other and the H on their chest,” Busby said. “We work hard in the offseason. I think our kids don’t ever think we’re out no matter what we’ve got to do to come back and win it. I don’t know, you can’t put a price tag on that and it’s just invaluable the attitude they have late in games.”

That attitude helped the Huskies remain unbeaten at 8-0 ahead of a road matchup with Stanhope Elmore on Oct. 15 to close out region play.