A date with destiny
Stratford goes for an outright conference title as Auburndale fights to keep its playoff hopes alive Friday
By Paul Lecker
The Stratford and Auburndale football teams will wrap up their regular-season and Marawood Conference schedules Friday night with a lot on the line.
For Stratford, a home game against Phillips gives it the chance to finish off an undefeated conference championship season and win the outright title for the first time in nearly a decade.
Auburndale will travel to Tomahawk with its season on the line. A victory for the Apaches will qualify them for WIAA postseason consideration at 4-4 in the Marawood Conference. Teams that finish .500 during the conference season rarely are excluded from the playoffs.
Stratford lost its opening game at Stanley-Boyd 35-7 back on Aug. 19. Since, the Tigers have won seven-straight Marawood games, outscoring their opponents 259-32, and have posted three consecutive shutouts heading into Friday’s game at Tiger Stadium against Phillips (0-8, 0-7 Marawood).
“It means a lot to our seniors as well as our team,” Stratford coach Jason Tubbs said about his team’s chance to play for the outright conference title. “I have a very dedicated group of young men that have worked extremely hard the whole year and really wanted to add their year to our trophy case.”
Senior running back Kamren Bornbach has been a workhorse for the Tigers, rushing for more than 100 yards in three-straight games and scoring 12 touchdowns in the past four contests.
A strong offensive line and running game have been the staple for Stratford all season, especially after the Week 1 loss.
“After week one, the team, the coaching staff, and, most important, myself re-evaluated what we were trying to accomplish,” Tubbs said. “I tried to implement some new concepts in the offense and came to the conclusion to scrap those and do what we do best, so it was actually a positive thing in the end, and we are finally getting to full strength with some key players being out throughout the season.”
Auburndale missed out on the WIAA playoffs last year and started this season slow, going 1-3 and scoring just once in its first two games.
The Apaches have since clawed back to 3-5 overall and 3-4 in the Marawood, leaving them with the task of beating Tomahawk (2-6, 2-5 Marawood) on Friday to get back to the playoff party.
Auburndale beat Pittsville 12-8 back on Sept. 23, which was big considering the Apaches had to play the top two teams in the conference — Stratford and Marathon — the next two weeks. Auburndale lost both games, but that win against the Panthers gave the team the confidence it will need heading into this week’s big game.
“We knew going in that the Pittsville game was a huge game for us,” Auburndale coach Eric Custer said. “It was a huge morale booster for us heading into the tough parts of our conference season. Last year we came out of the Stratford and Marathon games banged up. This year we are healthy after those two games.”
The chance for the Apaches to return to the playoffs is special for the five seniors on the roster. For those players — Collin Hawkins, Aaron Willfahrt, Brandon Yahnke, Luke Olsen, and Joshua Gable — to lead a very young team into the postseason would be very rewarding, Custer said.
“It means a lot of the senior class because we struggled last year,” Custer said. “Our quarterback and top two receivers are juniors. We start three sophomore offensive linemen. All five seniors are on the field together on defense, but the other six are underclassmen. They (the seniors) have improved with their leadership and led this team to this point.”
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.