Back on track: Pelham downs Chelsea for homecoming win

Published 10:11 pm Friday, September 29, 2023

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

PELHAM – It took less than two minutes for Clayton Mains to make his impact felt on homecoming night for the Pelham Panthers in a battle against county foe Chelsea on Friday, Sept. 29.

After Bishop Rellah set the Panthers up with great field position on their opening drive thanks to a big kickoff return, Mains was able to break loose on third down for a 15-yard touchdown run that set the tone for a 27-point opening half and 27-7 homecoming victory.

“You want a fast start, especially at home and coming off last week,” head coach Mike Vickery said after. “When you have that kind of game last week, you start questioning yourself as kids and to start fast was huge. It helped them realize that we’re still a pretty good football team.”

Vickery said he was proud of how the team was able to respond to last week’s loss to Helena in which the Panthers gave up more than 300 rushing yards in a 35-14 loss to their rivals.

“Last week was an anomaly for us. It was probably the worst that we have played in the past year-and-a-half,” Vickery said. “To be able to bounce back, to be able to come back and just come out with effort, not give up, I’m just so proud of the way they competed and the coaches for getting them ready to play.”

It was also an emotional night for Vickery after one of his former players passed away earlier this week.

A speech before the game was on the minds of both the coach and the players, many of whom came up after the game and said, “That was for you coach,” before the team surrounded him with a big huddle and hugs following the win.

“They’re great kids. It’s bigger than football,” Vickery said. “We want to always be there and make sure we understand that bigger purpose, and those kids understand that.”

That extra motivation showed in the opening half, as the Panthers continued their hot start after the 7-0 lead.

Following that opening scoring drive from Pelham, Chelsea was forced to punt on its opening drive despite a few positive runs.

The Panthers quickly capitalized when Marcus Arnold got behind the secondary and Mains hit him in stride for a 62-yard touchdown run to make it 14-0 with 3:57 left in the opening quarter.

Chelsea, however, responded with a big run from Emerson Russell, who broke loose for a 57-yard run to get the Hornets deep into Pelham territory.

That seemed to wake up the Pelham defense, as the Panthers buckled down and ultimately kept Chelsea out of the end zone by forcing a turnover on downs.

With that, a defensive stretch unfolded with three consecutive punts leading four minutes into the opening quarter.

With the offenses struggling, Pelham used its defense to pick up the next points when Kesean Griffin intercepted a pass over the middle of the field and returned it 65 yards to make it 21-0 with 7:11 to play in the second quarter.

The Panthers used that defensive confidence to quickly force another Chelsea punt and then add to their lead.

Following the punt, Mains hit CJ Tolbert for 53 yards on a deep pass over the middle of the field before then finding Mike Grayson for 23 yards and a touchdown to make it 27-0 at the halftime break.

Out of the half, Chelsea did receive the opening kick to the second half, and the Hornets, in need of quick points, got the exact start they needed.

Albeit a lengthy drive that ate a lot of clock, Chelsea drove down the field and scored on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Carter Dotson to Raymond Bridgeman to cut into the deficit and make it 27-7 with 4:36 to play in the third quarter.

Then, on the ensuing kickoff, the Hornets were able to recover an onside kick and were seemingly in business.

Javian Gee, however, changed Chelsea’s plans quickly with another interception for the Panthers.

Pelham connected on a 54-yard pass from Mains to Tolbert shortly after but was ultimately held out of the end zone.

Chelsea marched the length of the field, again taking a lot of time off the clock en route to getting all the way down to the 2-yard line.

A penalty, however, pushed the Hornets back, and a stout Pelham defense capitalized, standing tall against the goal line to prevent the Hornets from scoring and fending off the final scoring threat in the 20-point win.

Pelham (3-2 overall, 0-2 6A, Region 3) will host Calera next week, while Chelsea fell to 2-4 overall and is 1-2 in region play ahead of a region showdown with Vestavia Hills next week.