Rising to the occasion: Washington’s 7 TDs lead Helena to playoff win over Wetumpka

Published 10:36 pm Thursday, November 9, 2023

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor 

HELENA – The Helena Huskies dusted off a two-game losing streak entering the postseason and looked like the team that was 8-0 just three weeks ago thanks to a dominant night from Jordan Washington on Thursday, Nov. 9.

The senior running back put together a historic performance for the Huskies, totaling seven touchdowns and more than 400 all-purpose yards to lead Helena to a dominant 58-28 victory over Wetumpka.

Washington’s night included six touchdowns on the ground and one passing touchdown to help spark an impressive performance that sent the Huskies to the second round for the first time since 2020.

“It was pretty special. We’ve seen that a lot over the last three years. I don’t know how there is a better back in this state,” head coach Richie Busby said. “He’s on none of the lists, but I think he plays with a chip on his shoulder every game. The last person on my team that did that was a kid named Ardarius Stewart had seven touchdowns one night. To do it at this level is special.”

Busby credited the offensive line and the health of the team for the dominant opening-round win, saying they came into the game ready to get back on track after the two losses to end the season snapped their eight-game winning streak to start the season.

“I thought our O-Line was tremendous,” he said. “Everybody tried to kick dirt on us those last two losses we had and we had a lot of injuries. Nobody wants to hear that, but when you have Torrey Ward and Hunter (Hale) healthy, it makes our O-line and Jordan’s jobs so much easier.”

That was evident early in the game, but it was a big defensive play that sparked the offensive success and set the tone for the night.

The Huskies were backed into a corner early in the game as Wetumpka put together an opening drive that got down inside the Helena 10-yard line.

After a third-and-8 pass went deep into Helena territory, the Huskies turned a page defensively that set the tone for the night when Brock Wise intercepted a pass on third-and-5 from the 8-yard line.

“We had a fast start with Brock Wise having that pick down there, it gave us some momentum and set up the offense for a big night early,” Busby said.

That not only gave Helena the ball for the first time and prevented an early deficit, but it set up an 87-yard scoring drive.

Starting at their own 7-yard line, Helena converted a third-and-8 from its own 9-yard line with a 37-yard pass up the sideline to Washington, who then escaped shortly after for 45-yard touchdown run on third-and-1 to give Helena a 6-0 advantage after the missed PAT.

The Huskies then forced a bad punt on Wetumpka’s ensuing drive, giving the ball right back to the offense, eventually setting up a 1-yard touchdown run from Washington, who had a 44-yard run earlier in the drive called back due to a hold.

His running and the running of Dom Santiago, however, was too much for the Wetumpka defense to overcome, as Washington’s touchdown run was followed by a 2-point conversion pass from Carson Acker to Nate Jones to make it 14-0 at the end of the opening quarter

Wetumpka started the next drive with good field position due to a personal foul, but the Huskies quickly got a ball back after forcing another punt.

This time, they capitalized with a 28-yard Austin Lewis field goal to make it 17-0.

A minute-and-a-half later, Helena struck again.

After forcing a three-and-out and punt from the Indians, Washington added his third score of the half with a one-play drive, going 38 yards to the house to extend the lead to 24-0.

Wetumpka finally showed some magic with a kickoff return of 90 yards on the ensuing kickoff to make it 24-7 with 5:30 left in the half.

After the two teams traded punts, Helena got one last crack on offense with 1:20 left and a midfield start to the drive.

Hunter Hale, who had been quiet to that point, made his impact felt in a big way in the final minute, catching a first down pass of 32 yards with 29 seconds left, which set up a 13-yard touchdown strike from Acker to Hale three plays later on third down to send Helena into the half with a 31-7 lead.

That, however, was just the beginning.

One play into the second half, Washington got right back into the end zone with a 71-yard touchdown on the first play of the half to extend the lead to 38-7.

“Senior year, I just had to lock in,” Washington said of his mindset entering the game. “It couldn’t be our last game on our home field. We had a great week of practice and it motivated us to go out and be better. After a two-game losing streak, we knew we couldn’t lose another one. I give big credit to my offensive line tonight. They were really good and had a great week of practice too.”

Wetumpka did come out and find offensive success in the second half, scoring 21 points with an athletic group, but the Indians had no answer defensively for Washington.

He added his fifth rushing touchdown of the night on a 20-yard run on Helena’s second possession of the half, his sixth total touchdown on a 23-yard touchdown pass to Hale and his seventh and final touchdown with is sixth TD on the ground from 30 yards out to help create the 58-28 final score.

Washington finished the game with 34 carries for 347 yards, two receptions for 60 yards and one pass for 23 yards and a touchdown to total 430 yards of offense.

“I had so much fun,” Washington said after the game. “Football is a very fun sport, physical, but fun at the same time, having fun with my teammates, having a great time.”

Acker also had a big game passing with 201 yards and one touchdown on 10-of-17 passing, while Jones was the leading receiver with 86 yards on four receptions. Hale finished with 68 yards and two scores on three receptions.

Busby was proud, not only of Washington, but the team for how they responded to start the playoffs.

“We told them we need to get our swagger back,” he said. “We were an 8-0 football team and lost to two really good football teams. It’s hard mentally to get over that though. I thought they did exactly what we asked them to do. They practiced well this week. I could tell before the game they were ready, and they showed it tonight.”

Helena will now travel to either Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa or St. Paul’s in the second round of the playoffs for a challenging matchup.