By Paul Lecker
For Zaleski Sports
STRATFORD – For the first time in 10 years, the Stratford football team made it all the way to the WIAA state finals in Madison last season.
Despite a 20-17 loss to Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs in the Division 5 state championship game, the run to Camp Randall was a memorable one and this year’s team hopes to put itself in the same position.
Stratford lost 12 seniors from last year’s team that finished 11-3, but return a plethora of high-quality players and are once again among the favorites in the final season of the currently configured Marawood Conference. The Tigers will be moving into the Central Wisconsin Conference for football in 2020.
“It’s our last year in the Marawood,” Stratford coach Jason Tubbs said. “There’s going to be no holding back. It’s the last time we’re going to be able to play Auburndale and Marathon, probably for a long time until enrollment evens out.
“Those guys know that last year is over with and it’s time to step up and see what this year’s team can do. We’re going to try to go one day, one rep at a time.”
Stratford brings back University of Wisconsin-bound lineman Ben Barten, the Marawood Lineman of the Year in 2018 and a first-team all-conference pick at both offensive and defensive line.
Barten, a tackle, will be joined on the line by guards Easton Kilty, a North Dakota recruit, and Dawson Moen, and tackle Jaykob Mikelson as the Tigers will use the experience of the four returning players to fuel its always potent running game.
The main person carrying the ball will be different, as workhorse Kade Ehrike graduated after rushing for more than 2,000 yards and 30 touchdowns a year ago.
Chase Flink is the top returning rusher as he put up 408 yards rushing and nine touchdowns, and caught 10 balls for another 185 yards and two scores last season.
Fullback Matt Handrick (275 yards) and tailback Devin Dennee (122 yards, two TDs) will also see time in the backfield behind returning starting quarterback Max Schwabe. Senior Teddy Redman, who did not play football last year, has returned to the team and will also be a running and receiving threat for the Tigers.
Schwabe threw for 1,445 yards and 13 scores, and also was a pivotal part of the defense at safety. Vaughn Breit is the top returning receiver as he caught 19 passes for 320 yards and three touchdowns last year, including a score in the state title game.
“We have running backs who people may not know at the start of the season, but they are going to know by the end of the season who Chase Flink is, who Teddy Redman is again,” Tubbs said. “At fullback we have some choices there too. Matt Handrick, who returns from last year, and Beau Gross and Kainoa (Gouveia) that are kind of new to this, but we are going to be just fine.”
Schwabe said he’s excited to get this season started. Stratford will begin its season Friday with a nonconference home game against Spencer/Columbus Catholic. S/C beat the Tigers in last year’s season opener but Stratford was able to flip the script with a big Level 4 playoff victory that propelled them to state.
“We’ve been waiting since last November to get back on the field,” Schwabe said. “We’ve been talking about it all year long. I think our depth is really good, especially on defense and at running back.”
The Tigers have three of their top five tacklers from 2018 returning to anchor the defense. Barten led the team with 88 tackles, including 22 for loss and six quarterback sacks. Linebackers Justin Schoenherr (86 tackles) and Trevor Dennee (63 tackles) are also back.
“This year has been different,” Barten said. “We have kids fully committed to this team because we saw how close we came last year. Losing in the (championship) game, that heartbreaking. We can’t go through that again.
“Kade and (lineman) Dylan (Schoenherr) were our honorable mention all-state players, and that’s hard to fill, but we have a lot of kids that have prepared themselves to be able to be out there with anyone.”
2019 Stratford Football Schedule
Fri., Aug. 23 SPENCER/COLUMBUS, 7 p.m. (nc)
Fri., Aug. 30 at Antigo, 7 p.m. (nc)
Fri., Sept. 6 TOMAHAWK, 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 13 at Columbus, 7 p.m. (nc)
Fri., Sept. 20 at Rib Lake/Prentice (at Rib Lake), 7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 27 at Auburndale, 7 p.m.
Fri., Oct. 4 MARATHON, 7 p.m.
Fri., Oct. 11 at Edgar, 7 p.m.
Fri., Oct. 18 SOUTH BELOIT (ILL.), 7 p.m. (nc)
Home games in CAPS, at Tiger Stadium