Lightning strikes again
By Hub City Times staff
MADISON – For the second straight year, the Stratford Tigers surrendered a lead in the Division 5 state football championship contest which they could not reclaim. After grabbing a 13-0 first-quarter lead, the previously-unbeaten Tigers lost to the Lake Country Lutheran Lightning 22-13 on Nov. 21 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. The loss came 371 days after the Tigers lost to St. Mary’s Springs of Fond du Lac in the 2018 Division 5 title game.
“Two years in a row, leading at halftime, and they just made plays, and our guys fell asleep a little bit on a few plays, and give them credit that they played really well,” Stratford Coach Jason Tubbs said after the disappointing loss. “It didn’t help that we had two of our all-state kids get hurt and had to leave the game early in the game, and I think that was a big difference and we lost momentum, and unfortunately sometimes you lose. They threw the ball up a few times and they got lucky and came down with it. We gotta get a better pass rush. I think that would’ve helped a little bit. Having Jaykob Mikelson get dinged up and Vaughn Breit get dinged up, two of our defensive ends that we relied on all year, so our pass rush wasn’t there, but give them credit – they did a great job”.
The Lightning did do a great job, after a slow start. Following a three-and-out on the opening possession of the game, Lake Country Lutheran punted to Stratford’s Colten Schillinger, who returned it 43 yards to the Lightning 25-yard line. After losses on their first two plays, the Tigers hit Beau Gross on a 30-yard screen pass, then Gross found the end zone on the next play from two yards out, giving Stratford a 7-0 lead.
After another Lutheran three-and-out, the Tigers went 55 yards in seven plays, scoring on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Max Schwabe to tight end Justin Radke. A failed two-point conversion attempt made it 13-0 Tigers.
Lutheran quarterback Luke Haertle threw an interception on the fifth play of their next drive to Radke, but the Tigers could not capitalize, after Schwabe returned the favor, throwing a ball that was intercepted by Lutheran’s Jack Leverenz.
Lutheran again went three-and-out, as did Stratford after that. Then momentum started to gradually shift, after Chase Flink’s punt went off the side of his foot, and traveled just eight yards, going out of bounds at the Tigers’ 19-yard line.
After a one-yard gain on first down, Lutheran gained 13 on the next play. After two incomplete passes, Jacob Studer took a handoff from Haertle, then passed to Andrew Schumacher in the end zone for a five-yard touchdown. The extra point cut the Tiger lead to six, midway through the second quarter. Stratford then went on a 12-play drive that stalled when Schwabe tried to connect with Vaughn Breit on fourth-and-seven. Lutheran ran two plays to end the first half.
The Tigers went three-and-out to start the second half. Lutheran then did the same. The Tigers then ran four plays and turned the ball over on downs at the Lutheran 31-yard line.
Eight plays later, the Lightning would also go for it and fail on a fourth-down attempt.
Stratford’s next possession ended with a punt to start the fourth quarter. On their ensuing drive, the Lightning used nine plays to cover 86 yards, scoring on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Haertle to Schumacher. Trevor Dennee blocked the PAT, and that left the game tied at 13 with 8:41 remaining. Stratford again went three-and-out, giving the ball back to Lutheran at their own 33-yard line.
After 18 yards on first down and nine yards on second down, Haertle scrambled for three yards, then got hit late out of bounds, which tacked on 15 yards to the end of the run. Three plays later, Haertle took off running again, this time for a 20-yard touchdown with 4:25 remaining.
On the first play of their next possession, Stratford’s Chandler Schmidt threw an interception on a halfback option screen pass from Schwabe. The Lightning did not score off that turnover, but they used the drive to flip field position, punting to the Tiger 16-yard line. That was huge, because Schwabe threw an incomplete pass, and was then sacked for a seven-yard loss back to the Tiger nine-yard line. Schwabe’s pass to Chase Flink on third down fell incomplete.
Down by seven with just over two minutes left, Stratford went for it on fourth down. Schwabe dropped back to pass, and was tackled in the end zone for a safety, giving Lutheran a 22-13 game-clinching lead.
“We’re not going to make excuses,” Coach Tubbs added. “They beat us fair and square, and it’s on to the next year. Stratford will be fine. We’ve got a great community and they’ll rally around our guys again, and we’ll keep working hard and see what happens.”
Stratford outgained Lutheran 136-84 in the first half. The Tigers, though, had just five total yards of offense in the second half. The Lightning had 196. Gross led Stratford with 17 carried for 69 yards and one touchdown. Schwabe was 6-for-12 in the passing game for 68 yards and a touchdown. He was also sacked four times. Haertle was 12-for-26 for 210 yards, a touchdown and one sack.
The Tigers ended their season 13-1, while outscoring their opponents 662-29. The 29 points scored against the Tigers came in their final two games of the season. After giving up seven points to Amherst in the state semifinal round, Lake Country Lutheran put up 22 points in a nine-point state championship game win.
The Tigers were playing for their eighth state title in their ninth championship game appearance.