Helena falls to Vestavia as seniors close out strong careers

Published 11:21 pm Thursday, October 27, 2022

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Special to the Reporter

HELENA – As the Vestavia Hills Rebels racked up score after score in the first half, it looked as if the Helena Huskies would watch this season go by without putting up much of a fight. Who could blame them? There’s no game for them next week like Vestavia as the Huskies were already eliminated from 6A playoff contention.

That clearly wasn’t the case for the Huskies. Even though they couldn’t overcome a 29-10 halftime deficit and lost 44-24 in their season finale on Thursday night in Helena, they were only outscored by one point in the second half, and Helena coach Richie Busby saw that as a moral victory, even as he admitted this program isn’t one for moral victories.

“I think the biggest thing for us as coaches was seeing what kind of effort we were going to come out and play with,” coach Busby said postgame. “To say we had nothing to play for is not very accurate, but knowing we don’t have a game next week, you kind of worry about, you know, ‘are they going to come out and play or just go through the motions and get through the game?’ And I think everybody played with great effort and that’s all we can ask of them.”

Vestavia opened the game strong with a 1:11 drive capped off by a Jack Lockhart touchdown and a two-point conversion.

On the next Vestavia drive, the Huskies defense grabbed a fumble, and the offense countered the Vestavia red zone defense with a field goal to cut the lead to five.

From there, it was three straight punts for Helena and three straight touchdowns for Vestavia, including an Andrew Sikes reception and two John Paul Head keeper scores.

Not content to go into the locker room without a touchdown, Huskies running back AJ Horstead scored with a 17-yard touchdown run to cut the Vestavia lead to 19 going into the locker room.

The Huskies got bit by the turnover bug early in the second half, as Michael Dobbs got an interception on Helena’s first drive and Jordan Ross scored a scoop-and-score touchdown.

Then, a six minute drive for Helena ended in their second touchdown of the night off of a fake-out to Jax Rush.

Head responded with his third rushing touchdown of the night to end Vestavia’s scoring at 44, and the Vestavia defense picked off the Huskies again midway through the third.

Even though they were down 27 now, Helena refused to go quietly and picked up a turnover on downs in the red zone on defense. That stop led to the longest scoring drive of the night for the Huskies at 78 yards, and Dalton Llewellyn found Nathan Wad on a touchdown pass before Mason Johnson picked up the two-point conversion with 33 seconds left. That closed out the scoring, and Vestavia picked up the 44-24 win to close out their regular season.

After the game, coach Busby recognized the shift in momentum later in the game, and he knew that part of it was likely down to some of his players staring down the end of their football careers.

“We had a lot of seniors come out in the second half, knowing for 90% of them, they’re not going to play at the next level, that this is going to be the last football they’re going to play in their lives,” coach Busby said. “And I think that’s a big factor any time you’re playing your last game. I remember my last game and taking the pads off for the last time, it’s an emotional moment because unlike any other sport, there’s nowhere to play football when it’s done. There’s no church league, no men’s league like other sports. So, once you take that helmet and put it in the locker for the last time, the finality is definite. And I think a lot of the guys came out second half and laid it all on the line for a lifetime of memories.”

Looking back on the season, coach Busby had some regrets about how it turned out, mainly over the loss to Calera and how it led into a loss to Benjamin Russell the week after. However, he harkened back to the effort of the Helena seniors and now wants them to take a look at the bigger picture and the impact they left on the program.

“I’m just extremely proud of our seniors, and a lot of these guys have been with us for four years and put a lot of time and effort into playing high school football,” coach Busby said. “You know, it’s a sport where you train eight-and-a-half months out of the year to play ten games, and there’s not another sport like that where you practice so much to play so little, and it takes a lot out of a kid, especially the guys that have been with us for four years. I just want them to know they had a successful career here. I think it’s the winningest senior class to come through here, so very proud of that, and their body of work, it should be looked upon way more than this one season and the way it ended.”

Vestavia continues on into the 7A state playoffs to play Austin next week, and while Helena failed to live up to their own “measuring stick,” as coach Busby put it, of making the playoffs, the 6-4 Huskies clearly have a lot to be proud of both this year and in the past four seasons.