Seasons on the brink
Auburndale, Stratford, and Marshfield football all must win two of their final three games to reach the playoffs
By Paul Lecker
MARSHFIELD — The season is at a crossroads for three area high school football teams.
Auburndale, Stratford, and Marshfield stand in that “must-win” situation on their schedules with three games remaining.
All three teams need to win two of their final three games in order to qualify for the WIAA playoffs, which begin Oct. 24-25.
Auburndale and Stratford take positive momentum into the final stretch after blowout victories last week.
Auburndale is 3-3 overall and 2-2 in the Marawood Conference heading into Friday’s home game against Pittsville (2-4, 2-3 Marawood), which would be eliminated from the postseason with another conference loss. The Apaches rolled past Phillips 42-6 in a nonconference game last week to get back to the .500 mark.
“It is going to take hard work every single day at practice, in the weight room, and on the film study by every player and coach,” first-year Auburndale coach Eric Custer said. “We face Pittsville, which is a team that struggled at the beginning of the season and now is playing well and has their offense rolling.
“The coaches have to maintain intensity throughout practice to coach up their players in their respective positions to clean up little errors that can be costly. The most important thing is believing that we can beat Pittsville and believing that if we do the right things and believe in each other as a team, we can hang with Stratford and Marathon (the Apaches’ final two opponents) for an opportunity to win the game in the fourth quarter.”
Stratford is searching for its 24th-straight WIAA playoff appearance, and at 4-2 overall and 2-2 in the Marawood needs to find a way to play its best during the final three weeks.
The Tigers play at Rib Lake against winless Rib Lake/Prentice (0-6, 0-5 Marawood) on Friday before heading to Auburndale on Oct. 9 and wrapping up the regular season at home against Pittsville.
Stratford has been a strong running team all season behind the tandem of Kam Bornbach and Taylor Krall, but last week it unleashed a dynamic passing attack that it had not used to that extent all season. Sam Wenzel, making just his third career start, was 10 of 14 for 265 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-8 win over Chequamegon.
“When playing our best, our running game has been hard to stop,” Stratford coach Jason Tubbs said. “We need to limit turnovers and drive-killing penalties. Playing physical is also a priority and stopping the run on defense.
“We need to continue to get better every day, especially with our base plays, blocking, and tackling. We will continue to run the ball but plan to throw more as Sam Wenzel becomes more comfortable in the pocket.”
While Auburndale and Stratford are coming off big wins, Marshfield is trying to regroup after a pair of heartbreaking home losses.
Marshfield (3-3 overall, 2-3 Valley Football Association South Division) had fourth-quarter leads in each of its last two games but lost both — 35-34 against Wisconsin Rapids on Sept. 18 and 14-10 last week against Hortonville.
The Tigers travel to Stevens Point (4-2, 3-2 VFA South) this Friday at Goerke Field, will play at Oshkosh North (3-3, 2-3) on Oct. 9, and finish the season Oct. 16 at home against first-place Fond du Lac (6-0, 5-0).
Not only do the Tigers have to find a way to rebound emotionally from those two tough losses, they will have to find a way to win at least two out of three games against some of the best competition they have seen this season.
“We put ourselves in a tough spot,” Marshfield coach Denny Goettl said. “We have to win two out of three against three of the best teams in the conference. Hortonville is second in the conference, and we played with them, so that has to give us some confidence that we can play with people.”
Paul Lecker is publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com, a contributor to Hub City Times Sports. You can reach him by email at email@example.com.
Auburndale: Oct. 2 home versus Pittsville, Oct. 9 home versus Auburndale, Oct. 16 at Marathon.
Stratford: Oct. 2 at Rib Lake/Prentice, Oct. 9 at Auburndale, Oct. 16 home versus Pittsville.
Marshfield: Oct. 2 at Stevens Point, Oct. 9 at Oshkosh North, Oct. 16 home versus Fond du Lac.