By Paul Lecker
STRATFORD – Following a sluggish start, the Stratford football team used a couple of turnovers in the second quarter to change to scope of its WIAA Division 5 Level 1 playoff game against Westby.
The Tigers used a short field after two Westby turnovers to take a touchdown lead into halftime, then dominated the second half on their way to a 34-6 victory on Friday night at Tiger Stadium.
No. 2 seed Stratford (8-2) moves on to a Level 2 game at home next Friday, Oct. 29, against No. 6 seed St. Croix Falls, which was a 35-14 winner over No. 3 Spencer/Columbus on Friday. Westby ends its season with a 5-5 record.
Stratford ran just three offensive plays in the first quarter as Westby put together two long drives, but were turned away on downs both times.
The second Westby drive ended on the Stratford 9 after the Norsemen ran 16 plays and chewed up the final 8:03 of the first quarter and first 45 seconds of the second.
After Stratford went three-and-out again, Westby fumbled on its third play with Jackson Ormond recovering for the Tigers at the 39 and ignited the home team.
Six plays later, on third-and-7, quarterback Dillon Kirsch hit Kaden Griesmer for a 15-yard touchdown pass to give Stratford a 6-0 lead.
Westby struck back quickly on an 81-yard hook-and-lateral to tie the game. Quarterback Dillon Ellefson threw a 12-yard button hook to wide receiver Bo Milutnovich, who pitched the ball to his right to a streaking Grant McCauley and he took it the final 69 yards down the sideline to make it 6-6.
Westby threw interceptions on its next two possessions, the second of which was picked off by Darin Heeg and returned to the Norsemen 14. After one touchdown was called back due to a penalty, the Tigers pushed it in with just 22 seconds to go before half on a Dillon Kirsch 19-yard screen pass to Raife Smart and Stratford led 12-6 at halftime.
“I give our guys credit, they competed a little bit more and once we got going I think our guys relaxed a little bit and played more loose football,” Stratford coach Jason Tubbs said. “You could tell that this was the first playoff game that these guys have played since they were sophomores. Our guys responded the way we want them to respond when they’re being tested.”
Stratford, despite two penalties, took the opening drive 63 yards in eight plays for another score to open the third quarter as Dillon Kirsch connected with Griesmer for an 18-yard score on third-and-goal.
After a Westby fake punt failed, the Tigers put the game away with a 53-yard drive that ended with Griesmer’s third touchdown, on a 9-yard run, pushing their lead to 26-6 with 1:05 to go in the third quarter.
“We tried something different,” Tubbs said regarding the team’s halftime adjustments. “Last week against Amherst we came out in the second half and didn’t play well. We tried some different things at halftime and one of them was we fed them. We gave them some chicken noodle soup, we got that from (2019 graduate) Ben Barten and the Badgers. The guys came out and were re-energized.
“That’s kind of our new theme – each half is a new game. Come out in both halves and play well.”
Dillon Kirsch tossed a 40-yard touchdown pass to his brother Gavin Kirsch midway through the fourth quarter to finish the scoring for Stratford.
Dillon Kirsch finished with 121 yards passing four scores and Griesmer had 65 of Stratford’s 187 rushing yards.
Tigers 34, Norsemen 6
Westby 0 6 0 0 - 6
Stratford 0 14 12 8 - 34
S – Kaden Griesmer 15 pass from Dillon Kirsch (pass failed), 5:04.
W – Grant McCauley 69 lateral from Bo Milutnovich after 12 pass from Dillon Ellefson (pass failed), 4:43.
S – Raife Smart 19 pass from D. Kirsch (D. Kirsch run), 0:22.
S – Griesmer 18 pass from D. Kirsch (kick missed), 7:24.
S – Griesmer 2 run (run failed), 1:05.
S – Gavin Kirsch 40 pass from D. Kirsch (G. Kirsch run), 7:34.
First downs: Westby 9; Stratford 8.
Rushing (att-yards): W 37-115; S 33-187.
Passing (comp-att-yards-int): W 6-29-109-2; S 7-15-121-0.
Total yards: W 224; S 298.
Penalties (no.-yards): W 3-35; S 7-59.
Fumbles (total-lost): W 1-0; S 3-1.
Rushing: W, Grant McCauley 14-77, Joey Ellefson 10-25, Blake Sutton 6-9, Bo Milutnovich 1-5, Prince Preston 1-3, Brett Crume 1-minus 2, Dillon Ellefson 4-minus 2. S, Kaden Griesmer 8-65, Raife Smart 12-41, Elijah Lucio 3-36, Braeden Schueller 1-25, Dillon Kirsch 3-9, Gavin Kirsch 1-7, Ryan Becker 3-7, Gavin Leonhardt 1-11, Jack Tubbs 1-minus 4.
Passing: W, D. Ellefson 6-19-109-2, Milutnovich 0-1-0-0. S, D. Kirsch 7-12-121-0, Schueller 0-3-0-0.
Receiving: W, Milutnovich 4-36, McCauley 1-69, Crume 1-4. S, Griesmer 2-33, Smart 2-23, G. Kirsch 1-40, Caden Bruesewitz 1-19, Devin Ulrich 1-6.
Interceptions (defense): S, D. Kirsch, Darin Heeg.
Fumble recoveries (defense): S, Jackson Ormond.
Records: Westby 5-5; Stratford 8-2.