Stratford heading back to championship game
BY GREG SEUBERT
FOR HUB CITY TIMES
WAUPACA – It’s been 14 years since the Stratford football team returned from Madison’s Camp Randall Stadium with a state championship trophy.
The Tigers have another chance for the program’s eighth WIAA state championship following a 20-14 overtime win over St. Mary’s Springs of Fond du Lac Nov. 11 in Waupaca. Stratford will face Mondovi at 1 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, in the Division 6 championship game at Camp Randall. The Tigers will take a 10-2-1 record into the title game, while Mondovi improved to 12-1 with a 14-7 win over Darlington in the other state semifinal.
Stratford will make its 10th appearance in
a state championship. The Tigers won a Division 5 title in 1986 and six straight Division 6 championships from 2003-08. The Tigers came up short in Division 5 championship games in 2018 and 2019.
“We thought we had a shot earlier in the year, even when we were 0-1-1,” coach Jason Tubbs said. “We thought if we played together, it would come together in the end.”
Stratford never trailed against Springs, but the Ledgers found the end zone twice in the fourth quarter after the Tigers’ defense held Springs to nine yards of offense in the first half.
“(Defensive coordinator) Marshall Lehman does a great job with the defense,” Tubbs said. “The kids buy into it and listen to every word he says.”
Lucas Rameker and Sam Lucas picked off Stratford’s Braeden Schueller in the first quarter, but neither turnover led to points for the Ledgers. Stratford scored the only points of the first half, as Schueller hooked up with Gavin Leonhardt for a 30-yard touchdown pass with 4:47 remaining in the first half to wrap up a 13-play, 72-yard drive.
Three of the game’s five touchdowns came in the fourth quarter. The Ledgers tied the game at 7-7 on Cullen King’s 30-yard touchdown pass to Rameker with 8:27 remaining in the game.
Stratford answered with Schueller’s 2-yard run with 1:24 to go to cap a 14-play, 88-yard drive that took more than seven minutes off of the clock. King then completed five passes to Rameker, including an 11-yarder with 26 seconds remaining that cut the lead to 14-13. The Ledgers called a pair of time outs and considered a two-point conversion before settling for Cole Rottman’s extra point that tied the game.
The Tigers had the first possession of overtime from the Springs 25-yard line and needed only three plays to score what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown. Koehler Kilty, who led all rushers with 170 yards on 36 carries, scored on a 15-yard run, but the Ledgers blocked Schueller’s extra-point attempt.
Stratford’s defense then kept the Ledgers from tying the game.
After picking up one yard on first down, and three yards on a King scramble on second down, the Ledgers on third down were called for holding and intentional grounding on King, which set up a fourth-and-19 situation. King threw a pass into the end zone intended for Rameker, but Schueller came up with an interception to end the game.
Stratford outgained Springs 307-27 on the ground and 130-124 through the air.
Although King completed 10 of 20 passes, including the two scores to Rameker, the Tigers’ defense held the Ledgers’ leading rushers – J.T. Koenings and Levi Huempfner – to a combined 29 yards on 12 carries.
“I told the guys before the game, ‘I’m 8-0 in this game – Level 4 – (and) I want to get to 9-0,’” Tubbs said. “The last two times we were in Madison, we came away with silver. It’s great being (in) second place, but we want to go down and win one.”
Greg Seubert is the sports editor of three Multi Media Channels newspapers: The Waupaca County Post, New London Press Star and Clintonville Tribune-Gazette.