Jim Ellis

Special to the Grove Sun

Jim Ellis

Special to the Grove Sun

AFTON — It was a bloody shame.

Blood on the hand of Afton quarterback Brennon Fuser late in Friday night’s Class A second-round playoff game with Stratford resulted in a gigantic momentum swing.

Fuser, who had suffered a broken nose several plays earlier, had to sit out a snap while being cleaned up on a critical third-and-two play from the Eagles’ 26-yard line.

His replacement, Jacob Mustain, fumbled his first snap, but recovered.

A four-yard punt gave the Bulldogs possession at the Afton 32, then eight plays later got what turned out to be the deciding touchdown in a upset 21-14 victory.

“That was a momentum swing right there,” Afton head coach Zach Gardner said. ‘Hindsight being 20-20, I probably wouldn’t have put Jake under center. I probably would have let him take a ’gun snap rather than having to worry about the exchange. The down and distance situation was what it led to.”

Fifth-ranked Afton (11-1) had taken over at its own six after Sam Shepard recovered a fumble by Bulldog quarterback Chase Chamberlain.

Fuser kept for seven, then Matt Wisdom carried twice for seven and six yards. Fuser netted another two yards, then had to go out because of the blood.

“We had taken care of it (Fuser’s broken nose) on the sidelines, but I guess he had a little blood still on his hand,” Gardner said. “Their coach (Michael Blackburn) complained about it and we had to take him out.”

The Eagles burned two time outs while trying to get Mustain some snaps before entering the game.

“Then we don’t have the right personnel on the field because Brennon can’t come back in for our punt team,” Gardner said. “We had to burn all three timeouts. People didn’t understand what we were doing. We had used a time out trying to draw them offsides.”

Chamberlain was involved in all eight plays on the game-winning touchdown drive, running it seven times and completing one pass for 11 yards.

The PAT by Devaunte’ Barber — a rarity in football any more since he’s a straight-on kicker — created a 21-14 score with 3:51 remaining.

Afton took the ensuing kickoff and went from its 14 to its 40, but a Fuser pass to Cecil Jones was intercepted at the Stratford 29 by safety Tommy Lawson.

“I am just happy we came out on top,” Blackburn said. “That made the three-and-a-half hour trip worth it.”

The 5-8, 190-pound Chamberlain accounted for 301 yards in total offense for the Bulldogs.

He completed 14 of a season-high 31 passes for 211 yards and two scores.

“We haven’t thrown it that much all year long,” Blackburn said. “They made us throw it. He (Chamberlain) did a good job with the play-fake. We didn’t run the ball very well. In our two losses, we didn’t run it very well, either. We found a way to win.”

“He had you guessing all the time,” Gardner said. “They had some kids make plays at big times.”

The game was tied at 7-7 and 14-14 as each team matched the other on the first four scores of the contest.

Stratford went up 7-0 on a 12-yard TD pass from Chamberlain to Tyler Gaines, but the Eagles countered with a 40-yard run by Wisdom less than two minutes later.

Then late in the third quarter, Afton got a three-yard run by Wisdom to cap an impressive 92-yard, nine-play drive only to have the Bulldogs take the ensuing kickoff and go 60 yards in six plays. Nick Cosby was lit up by Jones after making a 28-yard TD catch.

“Defensively we played sound all night,” Gardner said. “We gave them a short field at times. I had said that it was going to come down to special teams and theirs outplayed ours. We had a bad snap, a blocked punt, then two botched kicks. We missed a field goal. We hadn’t faced adversity with punting this year for the most part.”

Afton missed on several first-half scoring chances.

It took the opening kickoff and drove from its 23 to the Stratford 14 only to have safety Alix Vanlandingham intercept a Fuser pass near the end zone.

Two plays later, Jones picked off a Chamberlain pass at the Bulldog 36 and returned it to the four. Wisdom was stopped for no gain, then Fuser threw incomplete on three straight downs.

A bad snap to Chamberlain, who also handles punting duties, resulted in a 14-yard loss and gave Afton possession at the Bulldog 44 early in the second quarter. The drive reached the Stratford 24 before bogging down and Mustain had a 43-yard field goal try sail wide left.

A 35-yard pass to Dusty Henry got AHS deep in Stratford territory. A reverse by Sam Shepard on a fake punt netted only two of the needed six yards.

The Bulldogs then embarked on the drive that gave them their first touchdown of the night.

Wisdom had another stellar performance, netting 174 yards and two touchdowns in 20 carries.

He finished the season with 1,695 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Stratford (10-2) travels to Crescent (9-3) for a quarterfinal game Friday night.

Stratford 21, Afton 14

            1st    2nd    3rd    4th    Final

SHS    0       7          7       7        21

AHS    0      7           7       0        14

Scoring Summary

Second quarter

Stratford - Gaines 12 pass from Chamberlain (Barber kick), 4:32

Afton - Wisdom 40 run (Mustain kick), 2:47

Third quarter

Afton - Wisdom 3 run (Mustain kick), 3:23

Stratford -Cosby 28 pass from Chamberlain (Barber kick), 1:34

Fourth quarter

Stratford - Chamberlain 1 run (Barber kick), 3:51

                                    SHS                AHS

First downs                16                   17

Rushes-yards           32-102           41-225

Passing yards           211                97

Return yards             22                   32

Comp-att-int              14-31-1         11-24-2

Punts-avg                  4-38.8            3-2.0

Fumbles-lost             1-1                  0-0

Penalties-yards        6-55               3-35


RUSHING — Stratford, Chamberlain 21-90, Sinnett 2-8, Ardery 8-4, Lawson 1-0. Afton, Wisdom 20-174, Fuser 17-48, Henry 1-3, Shepard 2-0, Mustain 1-0.

PASSING — Stratford, Chamberlain 14-30-2-211, Vanlandingham 0-1-0-0. Afton, Fuser 11-23-2-97, Mustain 0-1-0-0.

RECEIVING — Stratford, Vanlandingham 4-50, Cosby 3-50, Scoles 3-39, Lawson 2-45, Ardery 1-15, Gaines 1-12. Afton, Henry 5-50, Shepard 4-39, Jones 2-8.