Pelham ground game leads to 47-28 victory against Chelsea

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

PELHAM – After falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter and 28-27 at the half, the Pelham Panthers scored 20 unanswered points in the second half behind a strong run game to beat county rival Chelsea 47-28 on Friday, Sept. 25.

Pelham scored a touchdown just before the half, as well as a 2-point conversion, to gain confidence going into the locker room, and then came out in the second half ready to dominate the line of scrimmage. Quarterback Will Lankford and running backs Dylan Peterson and Gabe Gamble took advantage and scored one touchdown apiece to lead the comeback effort.

“This team, I’m extremely proud of,” Pelham head coach Tom Causey said of the effort after the win. “It’s one of the best groups of men I’ve ever been around. They understand about serving each other. It’s not just one or two, it’s a locker room slap full of them.”

With the win, the Panthers are now 5-1 on the season and still sit at 3-0 in region play, while Chelsea is now 1-4.

The fireworks started quickly in the first half, but it started on the other side with a Chelsea offense that had struggled much of the season. But thanks to strong defensive play, the Hornets and sophomore quarterback Hayden Garrison got to ease into the game.

On the first play from scrimmage, Evan Jones grabbed an interception for Chelsea’s defense. After a quick 24-yard pass from Garrison to Gabe Ruffin, senior running back Collier Blair put the Hornets on the board for an early 7-0 lead.

The Chelsea defense then forced a turnover on downs on Pelham’s next drive, which gave the Hornets the ball back near midfield. Garrison went right back to work, hitting Thompson Simpson for 38 yards followed by a 14-yard touchdown strike to Holton Smith on third-and-10 to make it 14-0 with 2:55 left in the opening quarter.

Pelham finally got on the board during its next drive, which then sparked the Panthers’ play the rest of the half.

On third-and-7, quarterback Will Lankford hit Chase Christian for a 43-yard touchdown pass. Following a missed extra point, the Panthers trailed 14-6.

But Chelsea’s offense rolled right along with an answer. This time, Garrison hit Ruffin for a 42-yard pass, before another short touchdown plunge put the Hornets on top 21-6.

Pelham, however, was now rolling offensively.

The Panthers quickly scored on a 39-yard touchdown run from Dylan Peterson to make it 21-13.

Then, on the ensuing Chelsea drive, Garrison made his first mistake by throwing an interception to Pelham’s Jamal Miles. One play later, Lankford capitalized with a 15-yard touchdown run to all of a sudden make it a two-point game after another missed extra point.

But Garrison didn’t stay down long. He came right back on the next offensive possession and threw a deep 38-yard pass to Ruffin once again. This time it set up a short Adam Reaves touchdown run one play after the Hornets converted on fourth-and-1.

Trailing 28-19 with 1:08 left in the half, Pelham had one more chance to add points, and the Panthers capitalized.

After a 49-yard pass to Christian Pritchett set up first-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Lankford ran in for a hard-fought score as time expired in the half. Peterson then added the 2-point conversion to make it 28-27 at the half.

Causey knew his team had started to control the line of scrimmage when they outscored the Panthers 27-14 to end the first half, and that continued to be the mission in the second half.

Pelham went on to put together drives of 12, six and 13 plays in the second half, scoring on all three, to pound away the comeback victory. Peterson scored on a 6-yard run, Lankford scored on a 34-yard run and Gamble scored on a 4-yard run.

“I’m proud of how our team responded,” Causey said. “Up front, our offensive line did a really good job. Our leadership up front handled it really well.”

Lankford led the Panthers with 169 yards and three touchdowns on the ground as well as 84 yards and one touchdown passing. Peterson went for more than 100 yards for the fourth game in a row with 135 yards and two touchdowns.

Garrison led Chelsea with 204 passing yards and a touchdown, while Blair ran for 80 yards and a touchdown.