Special to the Grove Sun
AFTON — Defense may be the key Friday night when a pair of high scoring teams battle in a second-round Class A playoff game.
Stratford has generated 400 points while compiling a 9-2 record while fifth-ranked and unbeaten Afton is averaging 45.6 points per game.
“We will have to find a way to stop them because they don’t seem to be a team that stops themselves,” Afton head coach Zach Gardner said.
The Eagles are coming off back-to-back shutouts: 63-0 over Yale in the regular season finale and 54-0 last Friday in a first-round battle with Barnsdall.
Afton’s defense has yielded only 125 points. The most they’ve given up in a game was 36 vs. Fairland in a 46-36 victory.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of use out of our special teams the last couple of weeks, but that can be a very special part of the night,” Gardner said.
The Eagles didn’t have to punt and kicked off just once — to start the game — in the blowout win against Barnsdall. The clock ran continuous in the second half.
However, Afton did get a 45-yard punt return by Dusty Henry in the second quarter that was part of a three-TD, game-turning burst that came in the span of about seven minutes.
This marks the first time Afton has made it past the first round since 2006.
“It seems this week we’ve been more relaxed,” Gardner said. “We got that part out of the way, but we’re not finished yet by any means. We’ve got to prepare each week like it’s our last one. Hopefully we play well and live to play another day.”
In the Barnsdall demolition, the Eagles exploded for 21 points in a rainy first quarter — despite coming up empty on their first two possessions.
“On film, Afton looks awfully good,” veteran Stratford head coach Michael Blackburn said. “They are big, but they are fast. The quarterback (Brennon Fuser) is fast, No. 25 (Matt Wisdom) is fast and they’ve got some fast receivers. They have the big play capability, which is always scary.”
Stratford ended its regular season with a 48-25 victory over Maysville then held Quinton to just 131 total yards on 50 plays while forcing three turnovers.
Senior quarterback Chase Chamberlain — one of 12 seniors on the Dogs’ 24-man roster — threw for one touchdown and ran for another in the win over Quinton.
Chamberlain, a four-year starter at quarterback, has more than 3,000 career rushing yards for the Bulldogs.
“He’s a pretty special player, especially with his legs,” Gardner said. “He creates a lot of things for them. He’s pretty savvy. What he can’t do with his arm, he can hurt you with his legs.”
Blackburn, who is in his 18th year at Stratford and in his ninth as head coach, said the Bulldogs like to show some diversity on offense.
“We will go anywhere from a Power-I to trips and twins,” he said. “We try to mix it up a little bit, keep people on their toes. We can throw the football. We only threw it four times last week and had games where we’ve thrown it 20.”
“I think they are a more run-dominant team, but they keep you honest enough with play-action pass that you have to defend it,” Gardner said.
Linebackers Nick Cosby and Tyler Gaines and defensive end Cody Watts have been the Bulldogs defensive leaders.
The Bulldogs lost to eventual Class A state champ Tonkawa in the second round of the playoffs last year.