By Paul Lecker
STANLEY – Facing the length of the field heading into a stiff, cold north wind, the Stratford offense faced a daunting task against a Stanley-Boyd defense that had allowed only 11 touchdowns in 10 previous games this season.
The Tigers’ offensive line took over. Sixteen-straight running plays ended with a touchdown and the beat-down Stanley-Boyd defense never recovered as Stratford rolled to a 38-0 rout in a WIAA Division 5 Level 2 football playoff game Oct. 27 at Forward Field. The win avenged a loss to the Orioles, 21-14, in the season-opener on Aug. 18.
The fifth-seeded Tigers improve to 9-2 this season and move on to a Level 3 game against two-time defending D-5 state champion Amherst (10-1) on Nov. 3 at 7 p.m.
Previously unbeaten Stanley-Boyd, the top seed in arguably the toughest group in all of the WIAA playoffs, proved to be no match for a Stratford team that dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
The Tigers racked up 277 yards rushing and held Stanley-Boyd’s potent offense to just 112 total yards and only 25 through the air. Orioles’ quarterback L.J. Schmelzer had thrown for 1,383 yards and 21 scores this season, but the combination of the strong wind and a ferocious Stratford defense limited him to just 5 of 19 passing for 17 yards.
“We kept telling ourselves that we could have beat them (in the opener) and now it was time to put up or go home,” junior running back Kade Ehrike said. “We knew we could beat them. We knew coming in that we were a better team and we proved it tonight.”
Stratford’s 99-yard drive was a work of art. The Tigers picked up six first downs on the drive, converting on third down three times and scoring on a 1-yard run by Ehrike on fourth-and-goal. The drive chewed up 5:32 on the clock and demoralized the normally stout Stanley-Boyd defense.
“We knew when we got the ball we needed to put up points and their momentum would be stopped,” Ehrike said. “Once we did that, we knew we could do anything after scoring on a 99-yard drive. It was awesome.”
Later in the first quarter, a 26-yard punt return by Dilan Dehlinger set up Stratford at the S-B 36. Teddy Redman had a 21-yard run on the final play of the quarter, and Ehrike ran in from the 8 for another Stratford score on the first play of the second to put the Tigers up 14-0.
Stratford hit a big play before halftime as quarterback Mark Handrick rolled to his left and found a wide open Eli Drexler for a 60-yard touchdown to take a 21-0 lead, and the rout was on.
Stanley-Boyd had its only positive drive of the game to start the second half, moving to the Stratford 29 before three incomplete passes ended the drive, and essentially the game.
Stratford turned around and drove 71 yards on seven plays with Jordan Becker ending the series with a 3-yard touchdown run on fourth down. A two-point conversion made it 29-0.
Benjamin Barten blocked a punt that went out of the back of the end zone for a safety, and Redman had a 15-yard TD run in the fourth quarter to finish off the scoring for the Tigers.
“They have two great players, (Ben) Turner and (Brandon) Herrick, and they hurt us last game,” Stratford coach Jason Tubbs said. “This game we found them and took care of them. Our guys wanted this one and you could tell right away they came to play.”
Ehrike, the Tigers’ top running back, gained 61 yards and the two scores in the first half before sitting out the second half with some nagging leg injuries. In his place, Becker finished with 113 yards and Redman added 74 on the ground.
“Kade Ehrike is getting healthier every week,” Tubbs said. “Other guys stepped in. Jordan Becker, Teddy Redman, Eli Drexler, Mark Handrick running the ball, throwing the ball…we just have a good, balanced team and that’s how you win these games.”
Next up is Amherst, who beat Spencer/Columbus 49-18 on Friday to run its winning streak to nine in a row following a 14-13 loss to Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs back in Week 2. Since that loss, the Falcons have four shutouts, allowed just eight points per game, and scored at least 32 points in all nine wins.
“They are two-time defending state champs for a reason, but we have a shot, we have puncher’s chance and that’s all we ask for,” Tubbs said. “We’re a five seed, no respect, and we’re going to play that no-respect card until someone proves us wrong. I know our kids want to play them, so that’s important.”