Helena beats three-time defending 5A champ UMS-Wright to earn 2 seed

By GRAHAM BROOKS | Special to the Reporter 

HELENA – After navigating through the regular season that resulted in two forfeits due to COVID-19 and three consecutive canceled games, the Helena Huskies needed a win on Friday, Oct. 30, to clinch the No. 2 seed in the 6A playoffs and they did just that, defeating three-time defending 5A state champion UMS-Wright 12-7 in a gutsy performance where points were hard to come by in the regular season finale.

Helena used the senior running back tandem of Marquis Johnson and Kobe Hughes to wear down the Bulldogs’ defense as the Huskies scored the only touchdown in the second half to win the fourth quarter and ultimately, the game.

“You call on seniors in games like that and that’s what we did,” Helena head coach Richie Busby said. “Anytime you beat a team that’s won three straight state championships, it’s big for our program.”

The game began with struggles for both teams offensively, as UMS-Wright lost big yardage from a bad snap, and Helena countered with a fumble that also resulted in a punt.

Both teams remained scoreless after the opening quarter, but the Bulldogs struck first early in the second quarter after several successful pass plays by quarterback Trey Singleton.

Singleton finished off the scoring drive with his legs, however, as he dove over the top of the Helena defense on third-and-inches at the goal line to cross the plane and give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead.

After struggling to move the ball early on, Helena’s defense played a big part in helping the Huskies set up its first touchdown by forcing UMS-Wright to punt.

A shanked punt, however, resulted in the Husky offense starting at the Bulldogs’ 30-yard line.

Johnson then carried the ball several times before eventually breaking a tackle and scoring on a 7-yard touchdown carry. The extra point was blocked as Helena trailed 7-6 at halftime.

Known for playing well in the second half this season, Helena did just that as the defense continued to get stops and make plays to keep it a 7-6 game entering the fourth quarter.

The statement drive for Helena came in a stretch near the end of the third quarter and into the final quarter, as the Huskies reeled off a 10-play, 79-yard drive that resulted in a 19-yard touchdown run by Hughes to give the Huskies a 12-7 lead after the 2-point conversion failed with 9:06 to play.

Down the stretch, Helena’s defense came up with an interception and a turnover on downs. That left it up to Helena’s offense to get one final first down to bleed the clock.

With 1:31 to play, Helena faced a fourth-and-7 inside the UMS-Wright 30-yard line. The Bulldogs had spent all of their timeouts and needed a stop to have one final chance at a comeback.

That wouldn’t happen, as Helena quarterback Mac Turner hit Kaysn Bustamento on a swing pass that went up the sideline to the UMS-Wright 15-yard line for the first down. From there, the Huskies ran out the clock to grind out the 12-7 win.

Helena reeled off three straight wins to finish the regular season, something Busby said was no small feat considering how much the team was affected by COVID-19.

“The way we finished, we came off the COVID, and I think we’ve won three or four straight and for our kids to come out of that.. missing games, missing a month before they played again,” Busby said. “They came with resiliency and adversity and all that kind of stuff. Our kids have done a tremendous job with that and I’m just excited for this group of seniors to host a playoff game, which nobody would’ve given us a chance to do that after losing 16 seniors.”

Helena finishes the regular season 6-4 as the Huskies will host a first-round playoff game as the No. 2 seed on Friday, Nov. 6.