Chase Chamberlain threw for a career-high 182 yards and two touchdowns and scored the game-winner on a quarterback sneak with 3:51 to play as Stratford continued its longest playoff run in at least four decades with a 21-14 upset of No. 5 Afton Friday night.
With the victory, Stratford (10-2) advanced to meet Crescent (9-3) on the road Friday night in the Class A quarterfinals. Afton, Class A’s highest-scoring team with 497 points in 11 games before Friday’s loss, saw its season end at 11-1.
Chamberlain, one of 12 seniors on Stratford’s 24-man roster, accounted for 85 of the Bulldogs’ 97 rushing yards on 21 tough carries, and he did a lot of the heavy lifting on the winning drive — a 40-yarder set up by a short Afton punt.
“(Afton) had some really good skill people,” veteran Stratford coach Michael Blackburn said. “I thought defensively we played really well, and we made enough plays offensively to win.
“That group of seniors isn’t ready to quit, and it wasn’t just the seniors,” he added. “(Juniors) Tyler (Gaines) and Alix (Vanlandingham) both had good games.”
Chamberlain hit Gaines on a 12-yard touchdown pass 4:32 before intermission to cap a long drive and give Stratford a 7-0 lead, but the Bulldogs settled for a tie at intermission when Afton’s Matt Wisdom scored on a 40-yard run less than two minutes after Gaines’ touchdown.
Wisdom’s four-yard burst with 3:23 left in the third quarter gave the Eagles their only lead of the game, but again the lead lasted less than two minutes. Nick Cosby tied the score for the last time when he caught a Chamberlain pass in the flat and maneuvered his way 28 yards for a touchdown at the 1:34 mark of the third period. Chamberlain threw a season-high 28 passes and completed 14 — to six different receivers — in the win.
“I didn’t expect to throw 29 times, but (Afton) did a good job of stopping the run (holding Stratford to a three-yard average on 32 rushing plays),” Blackburn said. “They were loading up to stop the run, and we felt like the passing game was open, especially in the flat.”
Vanlandingham caught five passes for 57 yards, Tommy Lawson — whose interception snuffed out the final Afton drive of the night — had two catches for 42 yards and had a long touchdown reception nullified by a penalty, and Tyler Scoles added three catches for 31 yards in the win.
Defensively, the Bulldogs got 10 tackles apiece from Gaines and Lawson, nine from Dakota Miller and eight each from Cosby (who also recorded a sack) and Chamberlain. Vanlandingham also had an interception for Stratford.
Friday’s victory ended a string of frustrating second-round playoff defeats for the Bulldogs.
“I think in ‘70 or ‘71 they might have gotten farther, but this is the first time we’ve made it this far since I’ve been involved as a player or a coach,” said Blackburn, a 1986 Stratford grad. “I was proud of the kids. We had some chances early where adversity could have gotten to us, but we kept fighting through it. We had to play physical, and we did.”