One-time conference foes Stratford and Spencer/Columbus collide Friday in a Level 3 playoff game
By Paul Lecker
Spencer, and for six seasons the Spencer/Columbus Catholic co-op, played against Stratford in Marawood Conference football games for 43 seasons.
That ended in 2008 when Spencer/Columbus moved to the Cloverbelt Conference. Since then the two schools have played just once when Stratford beat the Rockets 33-15 in a WIAA Division 5 Level 2 playoff game in 2012.
The old rivalry between schools separated by just 14 miles will resume on Friday night when Stratford (9-2) plays Spencer/Columbus Catholic (11-0) at Spencer High School in a WIAA Division 5 Level 3 playoff. The game will begin at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on WDLB-AM 1450 and wdlbwosq.com.
Spencer/Columbus, the top seed in Group C of the Division 5 field, and Stratford, the No. 2 seed, have both rolled through their first two playoff games.
Hunter Luepke had touchdown runs of 44 and 29 yards, and the Rockets piled up 350 yards rushing and 14 first downs in the opening half alone, jumping out to a 43-0 lead by the break.
While the Rockets boast a number of capable ball carriers, including Luepke, Noah Zastrow, Hunter Hildebrandt, Jonny Tomke, and quarterback Calvin Lenz, the running game’s foundation is a dominating offensive line.
“I think both teams are physical, and it’s going to be about who is going to win in the trenches,” Spencer/Columbus coach Jason Gorst said. “Quickness and who gets off the ball better is going to have a huge impact.”
Stratford has handled its playoff business in similar fashion to the Rockets.
The Tigers’ three-headed rushing attack of Kam Bornbach, Taylor Krall, and Cole Hoffmann combined for 226 yards and four touchdowns in a 43-12 win over Westby in a Level 2 game last Friday at Tiger Stadium. That came a week after blanking Colby 40-0 and outgaining the Hornets 354-80.
An early change from Hoffmann to Sam Wenzel at quarterback gave Stratford another strong running back to add to the rotation, a better passer in Wenzel, and, with an injury to the offensive line, allowed the Tigers to get back to basics.
“Losing (offensive lineman) Tanner Weinfurtner was a big blow to our team, but Aiden Hoffmann and Ethan Fabry have really stepped up,” Stratford coach Jason Tubbs said. “We went back to our basic formations and plays, so we are playing smarter and faster.”
When it comes to stopping the Rockets’ offense, Tubbs knows it will be a difficult task.
Spencer/Columbus normally runs out of a pistol formation and utilizes misdirection and ball fakes, causing confusion for the defense.
“They are 11-0 for a reason,” Tubbs said. “They are a solid team up and down their lineup. Their offense is hard to simulate in practice, and we need to be disciplined and try and gang tackle.”
Lenz, who has passed for 806 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushed for another 360 yards and seven scores, said he is happy to get another shot at Stratford after losing to the Tigers in the playoffs as a freshman.
The senior, who also plays cornerback, added that success will come if the Rockets just keep doing what they have been doing.
“Thinking back to freshman year when they knocked us out of the playoffs, it definitely would be nice to beat them,” Lenz said. “They’re a very good team, and we’re excited to play them. We have to be able to sustain drives and execute blocks. If the line plays the way they have all year and executes blocks, everything will take care of itself.”
The stakes are obviously high for both teams with the winner moving on to a Division 5 state semifinal against either Shoreland Lutheran or Marshall. The winner of that game moves on to the D-5 state championship game on Nov. 19 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.
“This group of players is the most positive kids I have worked with in a long time,” Tubbs said. “They never quit and work extremely hard on and off the field.”
The only time Spencer made it to the fourth round of the playoffs was in 1982 when the Rockets lost in the Division 5 state championship game. After reaching Level 3 a year ago, a gut-wrenching overtime loss to Little Chute, the Rockets are aching for a chance to advance.
“We feel like we should be here, and we’re ready to get over that Level 3 hump,” Lenz said. “We want to get to Level 4 and be one of the first teams in the school to do that.”
Paul Lecker is publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com, a contributor to Hub City Times Sports. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.