Like Mike: Chelsea remembers former player with jaw-dropping win

Published 12:27 am Friday, October 8, 2021

By SETH HAGAN | Special to the Reporter 

BIRMINGHAM – After an extra point attempt to tie the game missed with 1:25, it looked like an already emotional week for the Chelsea Hornets was about to end in heartbreak.

But playing for more than themselves, and maybe a little extra courage from a former teammate above, the Hornets didn’t quit.

Trailing Huffman 34-33, the Hornets forced a quick three-and-out, which led to a punt with 27 seconds left. Still a longshot, a blessing came their way when the Vikings fumbled the snap on the punt, leading to Chelsea recovering the ball with 25 seconds left.

Right after, Chelsea quarterback Hayden Garrison found receiver MJ Conrad for a 30-yard touchdown pass to give the Hornets their second region win.

The game-winning TD pass to Conrad was even more special as Conrad wore the No. 6 jersey of formerly worn by 2020 Chelsea graduate and former football star Michael Gibbs, who died earlier in the week.

“Long live Michael, he meant a lot to all of us,” Garrison said after the miraculous finish. “I looked up to him as a freshman. Everyone he crossed paths with, he had an impact on their life, this was for Michael.”

And in clutch fashion, similar to their former teammate, Garrison and Conrad lifted the Hornets to a thrilling 41-34 victory for their third win in a row.

The night, however, started out rough for Chelsea as Huffman busted out of the gate with a 71-yard touchdown run to strike first.

However, Chelsea responded by driving down the field to the edge of the Vikings’ red zone. On fourth-and-8, Huffman was whistled for a pass interference call.

One play later, Garrison found Conrad for a 13-yard touchdown to make the score 8-7.

“I thought we moved the ball well all night, we shot ourselves in the foot a few times,” Chelsea head coach Dustin Goodwin said. “Defensively, that’s a heck of a back and their kids played really well. Their game plan was well done, they controlled the ball, kept us off the field, but our kids didn’t give up.”

Penalties stalled Huffman’s next drive, and the Hornets used a slow, 15-play drive to take the lead with a 27-yard field goal from Luke Miller to make it 10-8.

The game tilted back quickly in the other direction as the Vikings struck back with a 55-yard touchdown up the right sideline to retake the lead at 14-10.

Garrison led his team right back down the field with three passes for 53 yards, while the run game grinded the final 11 yards, including a 1-yard plunge from the quarterback for a 17-14 lead.

Huffman was stuffed on its next two drives before halftime as defensive lineman Garyson Maddox blew through the line for three sacks to keep the threat at bay.

The momentum flipped again after the break as Chelsea’s initial kick return was fumbled and recovered by the Vikings on the Hornets’ 15-yard line.

Huffman used just three plays to regain the lead at 20-17.

Chelsea, however, followed with an eight-play drive to tie the game with a 39-yard field goal from Jack Seymour.

Then Huffman’s run game appeared to take over the contest.

The Vikings reeled off drives of 10 and 18 plays with the latter putting the Hornets in a 34-27 hole.

Garrison answered both times, however.

The first with a 53-yard bomb to Thomas Simpson to make it 28-27, while the second time, the junior quarterback led a five-play touchdown drive with three passes for 55 yards and a 26-yard touchdown pass to JyDarian McKinney.

A missed PAT, however, left the Hornets in the one-point deficit.

But the Chelsea defense made its final stand with Huffman trying to run out the clock.

Using their two remaining timeouts, the Hornets left themselves with 27 seconds to drive the field down one point. Except they wouldn’t need it.

Tragedy struck on the next play for Huffman on a slippery field as the snap was fumbled by the punter who was quickly tackled.

Chelsea wasted no time as Garrison fired a high, arcing pass that Conrad snatched out of the air, turned to his right and dove toward the pylon for the game-clinching score.

“I was just thinking it was mine,” Conrad said with a smile. “I was going to go up and get it regardless.”

“Our guys are resilient, they’re good guys, they come to play” Goodwin said. “We’ve got guys who we have faith in to make plays when the opportunity is there. Doesn’t mean we always make them, but we believe in them.”

Garrison finished the night 18-of-28 for 306 yards and four touchdowns. Conrad accounted for two of those scores totaling 44 yards on the two receptions.

Simpson led the team in receiving with seven catches for 102 yards and a touchdown. Cooper Griffin, McKinney and Emerson Russell added 56, 54 and 50 yards receiving, respectively.

Chelsea will move on to another region matchup next with Shades Valley at home that will likely determine the team’s playoff fate.

Stats from Mark McLaughlin