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Stratford running back Raife Smart runs around the left end during the Tigers’ home game against Wittenberg-Birnamwood on Friday at Tiger Stadium. (Photo by Steve Pilz/For Zaleski Sports)

By Steve Pilz

For Zaleski Sports

STRATFORD – The Wittenberg-Birnamwood football team came to Stratford’s Tiger Stadium on Friday evening with a bit of a chip on their shoulder.

When they left, they had a win in their back pocket.

The Chargers dominated the stat sheet and just slipped by on the scoreboard downing Stratford 8-6 in a defensive slugfest.

The two teams are now tied for second place in the Central Wisconsin Conference Large Division at 3-1.

“I had to reiterate to the guys this week that when we played them last year in the playoffs, guys were upset because we lost,” said Wittenberg-Birnamwood coach Bernard Holsey. “I said it might have been a blessing in disguise. Now you got something too work for next year. I told them all week, ‘You weren’t happy about it, now what are you going to do about it?’”

The Chargers showed they meant business right off the bat.

Starting at their own 24, they ran a 19- play drive that culminated in a 1-yard plunge by Ben Wesolowski. Wesolowski also ran in the PAT, to give Wittenberg-Birnamwood an 8-0 lead, and he would be heard from again.

It would be rare to say a play in the first quarter would have a bearing on a game, but when the Tigers muffed the return on the ensuing kickoff, it may have been a harbinger of things to come.

The Chargers recovered and ran off eight more plays, which meant the Tigers’ first offensive play came with just 38 seconds left in the first quarter.

Stratford did run nine plays before being forced to punt, but it was clear that nothing would come easy for either team.

After a four-play drive, W-B had to punt. Stratford took over and Rafie Smart went 48 yards between the left guard and left tackle for a long touchdown to finally get the Tigers on the board. The PAT failed and the Chargers held on to an 8-6 lead.

“We had opportunities where we could have scored,” said Stratford coach Jason Tubbs. “We had a 2-point conversion. We could be in OT right now. Give them credit. They executed and our guys ran into a little wall. I know they’ll bounce back like football players do. On to next week.”

For the rest of the half and into the second half, it became Wesolowski left, Wesolowski right and Wesollowski up the middle. The 6-foot-1, 183-pound senior quarterback ran for 110 yards on 26 carries and threw for 47 more.

David Gauderman pitched in, lugging the pigskin five times for 18 yards in the fourth quarter and 17 times for 47 yards on the night.

The Tigers got the ball on their own 17 with 3:41 remaining, but like the rest of the game, were stonewalled by the Charger defense.

“We played really well on defense”, concluded Holesy. “Stratford’s a very good team. Our guys stepped up and did exactly what we asked them to do. They played very well. Very hard. Best effort I’ve seen in a while. This time we had a lot of heart and a lot of will. Stratford’s tough. Hats off to their coaches. We just ended up on the right side of it this time.”

Both teams return to CWC Large action next Friday, Oct. 1. Stratford will be at Weyauwega-Fremont and Wittenberg-Birnamwood will host Shiocton.

Chargers 8, Tigers 6

Wittenberg-Birnamwood 8 0 0 0 - 8

Stratford 0 6 0 0 - 6

First Quarter

WB - Ben Wesolowski 1 run (Wesolowski run), 3:55.

Second Quarter

S - Rafie Smart 48 run (run failed), 5:56.

Team Statistics

First downs: Wittenberg-Birnamwood 13; Stratford 6.

Rushing (att.-yards): WB 49-174; S 27-107.

Passing (att.-comp.-int.-yards): WB 5-14-1-47; S 2-11-0-29.

Total yards: WB 221; S 136.

Fumbles (total-lost): WB 0-0; S 1-1.

Penalties (no.-yards): WB 4-25; S 4-29.

Individual statistics:

Rushing: WB, Ben Wesolowski 26-110, David Gauderman 17-47. S, Raife Smart 9-71, Elijah Lucio 6-18, Dillon Kirsch 6-11.

Passing: WB, Wesolowski 5-14-1-47. S, D. Kirsch 2-7-0-29. Braeden Schueller 0-3-0-0.

Receiving: WB, Jordan Landowski 2-24, Gauderman 2-19, Ben Flak 1-4. S, Devin Ulrich 1-23, Smart 1-6.

Interceptions (defense): S, Schueller.

Records: Wittenberg-Birnamwood 4-3, 3-1 Central Wisconsin Conference Large Division; Stratford 5-1, 3-1 Central Wisconsin Conference Large Division.