Jordan Washington explodes for 305 yards and four scores as Helena dominates Pelham

Published 11:04 pm Friday, September 22, 2023

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

PELHAM – After Helena running back Jordan Washington capped off a 305-yard and four touchdown performance in the biggest game of the season, his coach Richie Busby spilled the secret on why Washington performed so well on the night.

“Cause it’s Pelham,” he said.

The Helena Huskies beat the Pelham Panthers, 35-14, in the latest edition of one of the fiercest rivalries in the state, and the ensuing celebrations from the Helena players and fans showed why beating Pelham just means more.

“I know this game means a lot to our senior class,” Helena coach Richie Busby said. “This senior class has never lost a game to Pelham, and I know that means a lot to them. We put a lot of emphasis on this game all year, 365 days a year, we put emphasis on this ball game. So, for them to be able to do that and finish that streak off for them, I’m proud of them for that.”

All throughout the first half, Helena not only established the run, but found success with it. Carson Acker found Nate Thomason on a third down throw for a first down, but after that, it was all Jordan Washington with multiple solid runs in a row until a Cory Nichols sack forced a punt.

Pelham tried to get its offense going on its opening drive, but a mishandled throw on third down killed the drive and forced a three-and-out.

From there, Helena immediately struck with a two-play, 61-yard scoring drive capped off by a 54-yard touchdown by Washington to put the Huskies up 7-0 with under five minutes left in the first quarter.

Clayton Mains found Brock Isbell for a first down to start off the next Panthers drive, but penalties were a back-breaker for both teams throughout the drive. Pelham kept getting backed up but caught a break with a pre-snap penalty on fourth down.

The Panthers couldn’t do anything more and missed on two downfield shots before punting.

Then, Helena embarked on a run-dominant drive to begin the second quarter, with both Washington and Jeremy Spratling finding space from the offensive line and success on the ground.

Washington capped the drive off with his second touchdown of the first half, this one from 14 yards out.

After the teams traded three and outs, Pelham tried to gain some momentum and looked like it may have earned some after a Helena penalty led to a first down.

However, a Huskies sack killed the drive and forced a deep shot from Mains on fourth down, which fell incomplete for a turnover on downs.

Helena had under three minutes to work with before halftime, and the Huskies took advantage and marched down the field. Washington had a big 18-yard gain early in the drive that set the tone, and that eventually led to Joseph Roberto scoring a rushing touchdown to put Helena up 21-0 in the last offensive play before halftime.

Pelham needed a spark coming out of the locker room, and the Panthers got just that on the opening drive. Mains hit Kalib Porter for 32 yards and then called his own number on the next play for a 35-yard touchdown run to score less than two minutes into the second half.

Now down just 21-7, Pelham quickly recovered a fumble on the ensuing drive, and after Helena committed pass interference on the next play, the Panthers had the ball on the 25-yard line and looked to strike again.

Unfortunately for Pelham, the Panthers’ momentum stopped there as they were backed up into a 3rd-and-29 and had to punt on the next play.

Helena looked set to punish Pelham on the next drive, but a 19-yard run on the first play led to nothing. However, on the ensuing Pelham drive, Helena forced a fumble on a third down pass from Mains that looked like a sure first down completion.

With the Huskies now on the Panthers 25, Helena quickly punished Pelham with a 21-yard touchdown run from Washington for his third of the night to put the Huskies up by three scores, 28-7.

Pelham had multiple opportunities to respond, but on its last drive of the third quarter, the Helena defense killed the drive around midfield for a turnover on downs, and after Nichols secured a fumble to give Pelham the ball back, the Panthers quickly had another turnover on downs.

Helena used the favorable field position to set up Washington for his fourth touchdown of the night, this one from 41 yards out to take him over 300 rushing yards in the game, and Helena was up 35-7 with five minutes to go as the party began in the stands.

Pelham was able to string together one of its best drives of the game in the final minutes as two Mains runs of over 25 yards set up his 10-yard touchdown throw to CJ Tolbert in the back of the end zone.

That capped off a 116-yard passing and 95-yard rushing performance from Mains to lead Pelham in both categories and score two touchdowns on the night. Marcus Arnold was his top receiver with 51 yards off three catches.

The Panthers were able to cut the deficit to 35-14, but that proved to be the final score as Helena ran out the clock and celebrated a dominant win over its biggest rival.

After the game, while Busby was concise in explaining Washington’s impact, he credited his offensive line, Pelham’s defensive scheme and Washington’s playmaking ability as the reasons why the run game exploded for 341 yards.

“I think our o-line played well tonight in spots,” Busby said. “I think we had some mental lapses and missed some blocks, but overall, they played really well. A couple of times Jordan made some plays on his own and broke some tackles, which that’s what he does, and he gets better as the game goes on. We just hate to run him that much, but the way they were playing us tonight with two high safeties, we were going to keep running the football until they got out of that.”

Busby said that he and the staff challenged the defense to stop the run-pass-option that Mains and Pelham run so well. Although he noticed a couple of lapses, he was proud of their effort.

“Overall, our secondary played well, played with great eye discipline that we talked to them all week about, and overall, we played well,” Busby said. “There’s some things we need to clean up, and we’ll go back to work on Monday and get to those.

Busby noted that although the Huskies are now 5-0, they can’t be too confident now or else they repeating last year’s performance where they finished 0-3 and missed the playoffs. To make sure that doesn’t happen, Busby wants his team to celebrate this game and then move on to next week.

“For us to finish like we want to finish and not have the same thing happened to us that happened last year. We got to enjoy these for the weekend, then when we come back to work on Monday, we got to get ready for the next opponent.”

As for the next opponent, Helena will welcome Jackson-Olin for homecoming on Sept. 29. As for Pelham, the Panthers will face the Chelsea Hornets in Week 6.