Tigers come up short in bid for state title
By Hub City Times staff
MARSHFIELD – The Stratford Tigers blew a 14-0 first-quarter lead, and lost in their bid for a state football championship. The Tigers got beat by Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs 20-17 in the WIAA Division 5 state championship contest played Nov. 15 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. The Tigers were playing in their first title contest since knocking off the Edgar Wildcats in the Division 6 championship contest in 2008, which ended a string of six-straight state titles for Stratford.
The Tigers led 14-0 at the end of the first quarter, but the Ledgers outscored Stratford 20-3 the rest of the way to win the game. The loss was a tough one for Tigers’ Head Coach Jason Tubbs.
“Unfortunately, we won I think every category but the final score, and that’s the most important one”, Tubbs told reporters after the game. “We had our chances, and we just couldn’t capitalize on fourth down, and they did on their fourth downs.”
The Ledgers had just one fourth-down attempt, and converted, while the Tigers were 3-for-6 on fourth down attempts.
Stratford took the opening drive of the game 56 yards in nine plays, and scored on a one-yard touchdown run by senior Kade Ehrike. Reed Curtis connected on the extra point as well. Stratford’s defense then forced a Fond du Lac three-and-out, but the Ledgers forced a Tiger punt after a six-play drive. The Ledgers again went three-and-out, though, and the Tigers got the ball back at the Ledgers’ 42-yard line after Curtis blocked the Springs punt. Three plays later, Stratford quarterback Max Schwabe connected with tight end Vaughn Breit on a 40-yard TD pass and catch, and the Tigers were up 14-0 with :47 left in the first quarter.
After the Tigers forced another Springs punt, they got the ball back at their own 35-yard line. A big pass play to Derek Marten kept the drive going on third down. Then Ehrike got the ball five-straight plays for a combined 35 yards. Marten ran for two on a second-down play, then Schwabe for one on third down, setting up a fourth-and-three. Stratford called a timeout out, then passed on a field goal attempt from the Springs six-yard line, and opted to go for it. Ehrike got the ball and was stopped short. The Tigers turned the ball over on downs after a 12-play, 60-yard drive that consumed 5:52 seconds.
“Well, we thought maybe to get up by 21 points is a big incentive going in at half, and you pick your poison I guess, and hind sight’s 20-20. ‘If’s’ and ‘buts’, you know how that is”, Tubbs said about the decision to pass on the field goal try on fourth down, on what basically would’ve been a chip-shot field goal for Curtis.
St. Mary’s capitalized on the opportunity. The Ledgers took possession on their own 5-yard line and used seven plays to go 95 yards in 2:52, scoring on a 21-yard touchdown run by Marcus Orlandoni with 1:34 left in the second quarter.
Down by seven going into the second half, the Ledgers got the ball to start the third quarter. After Springs picked up 10 yards on first down, the Tiger defense forced a three-and-out. Stratford took over at its own 26. Ehrike gained nothing on first down, then Marten ran for seven yards on second down. The Tigers went right back to him on third down, but he coughed up the football at the Tigers’ 29-yard line, and gave Springs great field position. The Ledgers made the Tigers pay on the very next play. Quarterback Mitchell Waechter hit wide receiver Cade Christensen on a 29-yard TD throw to tie the game at 14 with 8:48 left in the third quarter.
Stratford responded, however, and went on a long 15-play, 73-yard drive that lasted 8:05. The drive ended with a 20-yard field goal by Reed Curtis with :38 left in the third, giving the Tigers a 17-14 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Things started to look even better for the Tigers when Waechter fumbled on the first play of the fourth quarter, and the Tigers recovered at the Springs 38. But, Stratford could only cover 10 yards in seven plays, and turned the ball over on downs at the Springs 28-yard line with 8:02 left in regulation. The Ledgers embarked on a methodical 13-play drive that chewed up 5:44 and covered 72 yards. Orlandoni capped off the drive with a five-yard TD run, giving Fon du Lac a 20-17 lead with 2:18 remaining.
The Tigers got the ball back at their own 22. Schwabe hit Ehrike for eight yards on first down, then ran for nine on second down. After an incomplete pass, Schwabe found Chandler Schmidt on a lateral. Schmidt looked like he wanted to thrown downfield as he pump-faked with the ball, but then pulled it down and ran for a four-yard gain. He had Okley Wrensch open down the left side of the field, but passed up on the chance. Two incomplete passes later, Stratford turned the ball over on downs, and wouldn’t get it back. Waechter took a knee three times to run the clock out, ending Stratford’s chances at a state record-breaking eighth championship.
But, Coach Tubbs was upbeat after the game. “We’re gonna miss Kade, we’re gonna miss our seniors, but we’re junior-led with Ben Barten and we’re excited for next year as well. I know our kids will get working after their other seasons as well.”
Ehrike led the Stratford offense with 106 yards rushing on 28 carries. Marten had 73 yards on 14 carries. Throwing the ball, Schwabe was 4-of-9 for 82 yards and one touchdown. He was also sacked twice. Stratford won the first-down battle 15-10, and outgained Springs 281-244. The Tigers ran 64 offensive plays, and the Ledgers had 42. And the Tigers also won the time of possession battle 30:04 to 17:56. The Tigers end their season 11-3 – just the second time Tubbs has won double-digit games as coach. He went 10-2 in 2013. Under Tubbs, the Tigers are 12-6 in postseason competition. His overall coaching record now stands at 54-17.