The stage could not have been set more perfectly.
The Chelsea High football team was playing on its home field against Northeast Metro. The Red Devils were sitting at 7-1 and could win the Commonwealth Athletic Conference Title with a victory over the Knights.
Instead, the Red Devils are left wondering what happened this week after coming up just short in a 14-12 loss. The best Chelsea can hope for now is a share of the conference title, which will only get if Northeast is upset by North Shore Tech on November 25.
Chelsea’s inability to control the clock proved to be its undoing. The Knights dominated the time-of-possession battle, particularly in the second half, in which the Red Devils only had three offensive possessions. The troubles started in the first half when Northeast scored on a ten-play drive to open the game. They followed a 45-yard touchdown run with a successful two-point conversion to give themselves an 8-0 right off the bat.
The major factor in the game became apparent in the second quarter as the Knights consumed most of the period with one very long drive that began deep in their own territory. Northeast got to the Chelsea five-yard line before the Red Devils put the drive to waste by forcing a fumble, but the lengthy march was a sign of things to come.
After recovering the fumble in the endzone for a touchback, the Red Devils had their best offensive possession of the game, marching 80 yards down the field and scoring on a 5-yard Daniel Martinez run with eight seconds to play in the quarter. Chelsea was unable to complete the two-point conversion, however, and went into halftime trailing, 8-6.
The Red Devils were determined to find the right adjustments to prevent the Knights offense from dominating the clock. But while the Chelsea defense was able to keep Northeast out of the endzone for much of the game, most of their stops came after Northeast had already been holding the ball for several minutes. Making matters worse was the fact that the Red Devils offense struggled to move the chains on their own drives, which often forced the defense to get right back to work just a few moments after leaving the field.
The Knights broke through after another long drive that ate up the final minutes of the third quarter. Once again, the Knights went for the extra two, but this time they failed and settled for a 14-6 lead early in the fourth quarter.
With the clock winding down and the situation becoming desperate, the Red Devils came up with a clutch fumble recovery near midfield with 1:18 to play in the game. Needing a quick drive into the endzone and a two-point conversion to tie the game, the last stand got off to a disastrous start for Chelsea as quarterback Nelson Molina was sacked for a 12-yard loss. Having no timeouts remaining, Molina was forced to spike the ball on the next play to stop the clock and give Chelsea time to come up with a play.
On third-and-long with 27 seconds remaining, Molina launched a 63-yard bomb that was caught for a touchdown by J.J. Rivera. Needing the extra two, the Red Devils once again opted for a passing play. This time however, the Knights put a strong rush on Molina, forcing him to hurry the pass. The ball landed incomplete, and there was nothing more the Red Devils could do but watch as Northeast squeezed the last few seconds from the clock and began to celebrate their victory.
For the game, Molina completed four of eight passes for 115 yards, while Martinez had 75 rushing yards on 75 carries. But the impressive individual outings did little numb the frustration of the loss that put a bitter twist on an otherwise spectacular season.
“It’s a very tough loss,” said a deflated head coach Mike Stellato. “We were in the driver’s seat. A win and we win the conference. I can’t lie to you: everyone is disappointed. We had the opportunity, but you have to give credit to Northeast. I thought that they played a good game and they did the things they wanted to do to prevent us from getting our offense going.”
A Thanksgiving loss by Northeast to fall into a three-way tie for the CAC lead would be unexpected – to say the least. After all, North Shore Tech is the team that Chelsea throttled, 42-14 on November 6. The win was one of the highlights of the season and featured dominant performances from both the Chelsea offense and defense. North Shore Tech was held to just 21 total yards on offense in the first half, while the Red Devils racked up 435 total yards in the game, thanks in large part to Daniel Martinez, who rushed for 225 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
The Red Devils (7-2) are scheduled to play at Charlestown High on Thanksgiving morning.