AMARILLO, TX – There’s no question that Stratford’s plan to stay with their tried and true ground game and burn up the clock while keeping the high octane Canadian offense off of the field was a success; for the first half of the game. Unfortunately for the Elks, there would be a second half to play.
Anyone watching Twitter, Facebook, or the mobile score update world as did many of the 7,000 + fans at Dick Bivens stadium this afternoon might have gone into shock to see the Canadian Wildcats had been held to only 7 points in the first half. Perhaps there were even upset alerts sent out far and wide. The Elks have proven to be the most competitive team versus the Wildcats this season even before their well-executed strategic plan to stifle one of the highest scoring Offenses in Class 2A. And stifle them they did; in the first half.
After Canadian’s opening kickoff by Benigno Heredia (4 for 4 PATS, 1 FG) the Stratford offense reeled off a couple of 1st downs with their potent ground game until they were stopped at the Wildcat 38 yard line looking at 4th down. QB Jack McBryde received the long snap for the punt short in order to hit WR Ty Hess on a route to secure a 1st down with the fake punt. The pass was defended by Canadian DB Cameron Copley well enough to cause the incompletion and the Wildcats took possession on downs.
After watching Stratford burn up almost half of the first quarter, the Wildcat offense finally took the field just to suffer a 3-and-out. The Elks took over again and reeled off two more 1st downs before being stopped on the 50 yard line. The speedy fast-to-line-up-quick-snapping Wildcat offense ran two plays before the first quarter ended, making the offensive plays by Canadian in in the first quarter come to a total of five. For the Elks, with one period in the books, their plan was a raving success. However, as the 2nd quarter began, Canadian finished off the 9 play 83 yard drive with an 11 yard TD pass from QB Tanner Schafer (17 for 22, 2 TDs) to WR Manny Ramsey (Heredia PAT good) to light up the scoreboard 7-0 with 10:41 left in the 2nd.
Stratford burned even more of the 10:41 left, but without a score to show for it. The last offensive series for Canadian was made up of six plays and a 1st down, ending the half with a hook-and-ladder play that was stopped on the Elk 31 yard line, Canadian driving hard and fast for another score, but was denied the time to find the end zone. With the first half in the books Stratford had done what no other team in two seasons has been able to; sidelining Canadian’s NASCAR offense long enough and harassing them just enough defensively to hold them to only one score in the first half.
Of course, everyone in the Panhandle was interested in what was being said in the locker-rooms at halftime. QB Tanner Schafer recalls, “Going in at halftime and only having scored 7 points from the offensive standpoint was not what we expected. We have one of the best defenses in the state, and they showed that this afternoon.” Schafer went on to say, “At halftime we fixed a couple of things we didn’t expect them to do and came out with new plays that helped us out a bunch. Defense wins games and they proved that today.”
The second half opened with Canadian receiving the kickoff, driving 75 yards on 13 plays to push the score to 14-0. RB Chance Cook (191 yards rushing on 24 carries, 2 TDs) displayed both power and speed with punishing run plays on the drive, one for 16 yards and another for 22 yards. Schafer also delivered WR Manny Ramsey a pass for 16 yards and WR Sawyer Cook hauled in a reception for 8 yards on the same drive. The Canadian O-line finally made it possible for Cook to walk into the end zone from the 1 yard line for the TD exactly where he had been upended on a big hit earlier by Elks DB Fernando Jacquez.
On the second play of Stratford’s next drive, a slightly under-thrown pass from QB Jack McBryde to RB Fernando Jacquez was intercepted by Wildcat LB Sawyer Cook and returned to the Elk 19 yard line, but was spotted at the 32 yard line due to a penalty. The Elks held off the Wildcats converting the turnover into a TD, however, All-State kicker Benigno Heredia was able to punch a 35 yard FG through the uprights against a gusting 15 mph wind making the score 17-0 with 4:45 left in the 3rd quarter.
The ensuing drive the Elks put together had made it to the Canadian 33 yard line until the next play when McBryde was sacked by LB Cade Throgmorton (returning from a knee injury) for a 10 yard loss. McBryde proceeded to make up for the yards lost by hitting WR Ty Hess on a beautiful out pattern to bring up a 4th and 2, which they couldn’t convert and turned over the ball on downs.
The Wildcat NASCAR offense then cranked out a 9 play 65 yard scoring drive with a mixture of pass/run calls against a tiring, but very determined Elk defense. RB Chance Cook’s number was called for his second TD, going in standing up from the 2 yard line with 9:57 left in the 4th.
This game was without question the most physical played by either team all season. WR/LB Sawyer Cook reflected on matching up with a team known for hard hitting like Stratford. “I believe the preparation throughout the week led us to being the more physical team throughout the game. The game was won in the trenches on both sides of the ball.” Cook’s first cousin, DE Cooper Trolinger, added that there’s a very strong team brotherhood component involved: “We went in at half and fixed some things and came out and were physical. We play as a team and have each other’s backs.”
The Elks next drive began with McBryde being sacked by DE Cory Chidester for an 11 yard loss and ended with a shanked punt that setup the Wildcats on the Stratford 34 yard line.
The momentum Canadian’s offense had regained with the supersonic tempo that is a normal day at the office for them, took full advantage of the short field left by the shanked punt and scored on the 4th play in just a couple of minutes. RB Cooper Trolinger received a 5 yard pass from Schafer out in the flat, and then powered his way through Elk LB John McBroom for the TD near the pylon with 6:49 left in the game, 31-0 Canadian.
On their last possession, the Stratford offense appeared to be devastated by one of the the stingiest defenses in Class 2A and had only 107 total yards until the last play of the game, a 32 yard run by RB Kevin Hernandez. Canadian finished with 408 total yards compared to Stratford’s 139.
The win by Canadian places them in the State Semi-Final with the Region 2 Champions, the Crawford Pirates (14-0) scheduled for Friday, December 11th, 7:30 p.m., at Wichita Falls Memorial Stadium. Completing the Final Four teams in Class 2ADI is the Semi-Final match between Lovelady (14-0) and Refugio (12-2). The State Championship will be played at Houston’s NRG Stadium, at 10:00 a.m., December 17th.
By Jerry Brunson, Class 2A and Canadian Wildcat Correspondent
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