Stratford’s upstart Bulldogs came within an eyelash — in fact several eyelashes — of upsetting top-ranked Woodland in Saturday’s Class A championship game at Boone Pickens Stadium. But after dodging bullets on defense and narrowly missing the bullseye on offense for four quarters, Stratford couldn’t write a storybook ending to its Cinderella season.
Woodland tailback Willie Zachary skirted the right side and dove into the end zone on his team’s first play in overtime, and the unbeaten Cougars escaped with a 6-0 victory that denied the Bulldogs the first state title in school history.
Zachary’s touchdown also spoiled another inspired effort by the Stratford defense, which forced two turnovers and repeatedly came up with big plays to turn back a Woodland offense that had scored 520 points in its first 14 games. It was also just the second touchdown the Bulldogs (12-3) had allowed in the second half in five postseason games.
In the end, the battle of two defensive heavyweights was decided by uncharacteristic mistakes by a Stratford offense that had been extremely efficient over the previous four weeks. The Bulldogs, who had turned the ball over just twice while recording nine takeaways in victories over Crescent and Morrison leading up to Saturday’s game, had two critical turnovers and committed several key penalties to kill scoring threats.
Stratford’s last miscue came in overtime, when senior quarterback Chase Chamberlain — the offensive catalyst in his team’s long playoff run — had his third-down pass from the 9 intercepted by his opposite number, Patrick Bartlett.
The interception — just his second of the playoffs — was an ironic way for Chamberlain to end a spectacular season, career and championship game. He rushed for 107 yards on 25 tough carries and completed 7-of-11 passes for another 64 yards against a Wooland defense geared to stop him, and he was also part of a secondary that limited Bartlett, the Cougar quarterback, to seven completions in 20 attempts and intercepted a pass.
While the entire game was a series of missed opportunites for both teams, Stratford mounted the biggest threats — and made most of the key mistakes — in the second half.
The Bulldogs took the third-quarter kickoff and drove from their 32 to the Woodland 43 in seven plays — four of them runs by Chamberlain. On first down, senior tailback Regand Ardery burst up the middle for 15 yards, but he fumbled after being sandwiched between Woodland defensive backs Ben Goodeagle and Steven Ben, and Goodeagle recovered at the 28.
Zachary gained 42 yards on the ensuing drive, and his fourth carry on the march gave the Cougars a first down at the Stratford 15. But a motion penalty and four straight incompletions — including potential touchdown passes dropped in the end zone by Goodeagle and tailback Tracey Wilson — gave the ball back to the Bulldogs on downs.
Woodland mounted two more threats early in the fourth quarter, but each time the Stratford defense came up with a big play.
A 37-yard Bartlett-to-Wilson pass on third-and-10 from the Woodland 21 and a tough nine-yard run by Bartlett on a third-and-9 from the Stratford 41 gave the Cougars a first down at the Bulldog 32. One snap later, though, Bartlett fumbled after an 11-yard gain, and Cody Watts recovered for Stratford at the 21.
After a rare three-and-out by the Bulldogs and a 21-yard return of a 34-yard Chamberlain punt by Wilson followed by a personal foul penalty, Woodland had a first down at the Stratford 31. But Tommy Lawson had good coverage on Goodeagle in the end zone on a fourth-and-5 pass from Bartlett (who was under pressure from the Bulldog pass rush). The Bulldogs took over at the 26 with 6:47 to play in regulation and mounted their last big threat of the night.
Three Ardery runs totalling 18 yards and Chamberlain passes of 13 yards to Lawson and 23 yards to tight end Nick Cosby gave Stratford a first down at the Woodland 20.
Two plays later, Lawson was inches short on a third-and-8 run off right tackle, and facing fourth-and-inches from the 15, the Bulldogs were hit with a critical penalty when the right side of the offensive line jumped early. Chamberlain’s fourth-down pass sailed over the head of Alex Vanlandingham in the end zone on fourth-and-5, and although the Bulldogs drove back into Woodland territory in the final seconds of regulation, time ran out with the ball at the 42.
The first half was also a game of punch-counterpunch, with both teams mounting promising drives that were stopped short of the end zone by gutsy defensive stands.
Woodland took the opening kickoff and marched to the Stratford 39 before tailback Wilson was stopped for a one-yard loss on third-and-3 and Chamberlain batted down Bartlett’s fourth-down pass into the flat. The Bulldogs answered by driving to the Woodland 18 in just three plays — the biggest a 27-yard scamper by Ardery — before turning the ball over on downs at the 19.
Bartlett hit Goodeagle for 29 yards on the second snap of the ensuing drive, but four plays later, Lawson picked off Bartlett’s third-down pass at the Stratford 30 and returned it 38 yards to the Woodland 32.
The Bulldogs drove to the Cougar 2 in nine plays following Lawson’s 10th interception of the season and sixth in the last three weeks; on fourth-and-goal from the 4, though, Chamberlain was stopped two yards short on a quarterback draw and Woodland took over again with 9:30 left in the half.
The Cougars then used eight plays and more than four minutes in driving to the Bulldog 25, but Wilson was nailed in the backfield by Cosby and Tyler Gaines for a four-yard loss on fourth down, and Watts dropped Goodeagle for a three-yard loss on fourth-and-14 from the 29 to kill that threat.
Stratford followed with an eight-play drive to the Woodland 44 that used all but 21 seconds of the final 5:15 of the half. Two penalties — the second a holding call that nullified what would have been a Chamberlain-to-Lawson connection for a first down — short-circuited that threat, however, and Chamberlain punted. When the half ended, the Bulldogs had been shut out despite run 18 of their 24 plays in Woodland territory.
Ardery finished with 91 yards on 19 carries and, along with Chamberlain, keyed a Stratford ground game that churned out 199 yards.
Bartlett had the biggest chunk of Woodland’s 187 rushing yards (98 on 13 carries) and also threw for 106 yards. Zachary finished with 58 yards on 11 carries after touching the ball just three times and gaining 11 yards in the first half.