Tradition collided with destiny in Friday’s night’s Class A semifinal showdown between unranked Stratford and No. 10 Morrison at Moore High School. And in the end, tradition never had a chance.
Stratford’s Cinderella Bulldogs — seeking their school’s first-ever berth in a state championship game — used the same opportunistic, rock-solid defense that had carried them to road victories in the first three rounds of the playoffs and rediscovered a big-play running game that had been missing the past two weeks en route to a convincing 33-14 victory over a Morrison squad with designs on its school’s 15th state title since 1984.
With the victory, Stratford (12-2) advanced to meet Woodland — a 46-26 winner over Thomas Friday night — for the Class A crown Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater. Morrison, which beat No. 2 Cashion in the quarterfinals and edged Wayne (which won District A-5, with Stratford third) in round two of the playoffs, finished the season 10-4.
“These guys heard in different places this week that they didn’t have the heart or the tradition to do this,” veteran Stratford coach Michael Blackburn said after seeing his club win its sixth straight game overall and fifth straight road game going back to Week 10 of the regular season. “We reminded them of that at halftime, and they came out and played physical in the second half.”
Morrison dominated the second quarter and, although the score was tied 14-14 at halftime, the Wildcats appeared to on the verge of taking control of the game heading into the locker room. But the Bulldogs — who have given up just 10 second-half points (and just 45 points overall) in four postseason games — had other ideas.
“(The Wildcats) had the momentum going in at halftime, and we had to get some things figured out,” Blackburn said. “It just came down to desire and heart in the second half.”
After outgaining Morrison, 187-165, before intermission, the Bulldogs battered the Wildcats over the final two periods. Stratford’s defense allowed just 50 yards on 22 second-half plays, and Blackburn’s offensive line paved the way for quarterback Chase Chamberlain and tailback Regand Ardery — two of the 12 seniors on Stratford’s 24-man roster — to carve out 170 yards and three touchdowns on the ground after the break.
“Coach just finds something that works, and he sticks with it until they stop it,” Ardery said after rushing for a career-high 169 yards and three scores (on 23 carries) in the win. “The counter was working all night.
“This is unbelievable,” he said. “I’ve always dreamed about going to state, and now we’re going. It would be icing on the cake to win a state championship.”
“When the playoffs started, we felt like everybody had counted us out,” said Chamberlain, who ran for 111 yards on 14 carries and completed three passes (all in the first half) in nine attmpts for another 57 yards. “But we never gave up on ourselves.”
In addition to smothering the high-powered Morrison offense, Stratford’s defense forced three second-half turnovers (and five overall), and the offense converted all three takeaways into touchdowns.
The Bulldogs went three-and-out on their first possession of the third quarter, but two plays later Morrison quarterback Spencer Venus and tailback Dylon Quinata missed connections on a handoff, and linebacker Nick Cosby pounced on the loose ball at the Morrison 29 for his third fumble recovery in the last two games.
After Chamberlain threw incomplete on first down, he zigged and zagged his way through most of the Wildcat defense on a quarterback keeper to the right for the touchdown that put Stratford in front for good, 20-14, with 9:23 left in the period.
Morrison mounted its only sustained drive of the second half on the ensuing possession, but with the Wildcats facing a third-and-8 from the Stratford 36, cornerback Tyler Scoles stepped in front of a Venus pass in front of the Wildcat bench and returned the ball to the 32.
An off-sides penalty and runs of 4, 3 and 12 yards by Ardery moved the ball to the Wildcat 44, then Ardery burst off right tackle and outran the Morrison defense to the end zone to make it 27-14.
Tommy Lawson, who had two key interceptions in Stratford’s quarterfinal victory at Crescent and two more in the first half Friday, ending the Wildcats’ next possession when he made an over-the-shoulder, fingertip interception of a long third-and-8 pass from Venus at the Stratford 30. Lawson returned his fifth pick in two weeks to the Morrison 28, giving the Bulldogs the ball again with just 12 seconds left in the quarter.
Ardery carried five times on the ensuing seven-play drive, and he scored the game’s final touchdown on a sweep to the left with 8:48 remaining.
“The line did a great job, and they were excited the whole second half,” Ardery said. “I think we can be a pretty good team when we get pumped up.”
Venus completed his only three passes of the second half (for a total of 15 yards) on the ensuing drive, but he was sacked by Cody Watts for a 10-yard loss on first down from the Bulldog 32. The drive ended three plays later when Venus threw incomplete on a fourth-and-12 from the 34 while trying to elude Stratford linemen Dakota Miller and Devaunté Barber.
Stratford then milked the final 5:33 off the clock on a seven-play drive (all runs by Ardery and Chamberlain) to the Morrison 14 before Chamberlain ended things by taking a knee on the final two snaps of the night.
Early on, though, the game had the look of a shootout, with the teams combining to score 21 points in a 99-second span in the first quarter.
Stratford marched 52 yards in six plays to the night’s first touchdown, with Chamberlain doing most of the damage. His 18-yard run on the second snap of the drive carried to the Morrison 32, he hit Lawson for 14 yards to the 15 two plays later, and he capped the march with a 15-yard burst up the middle with 9:00 left in the opening period.
The lead lasted only 13 seconds, but following Jacob Walls’ 80-yard return of the ensuing kickoff to tie the game, Stratford needed just 1:26 to answer.
After taking over at their 36, the Bulldogs moved to paydirt in four plays — an 18-yard end-around by Lawson, a 28-yard pass from Chamberlain to Tyler Gaines, a seven-yard Chamberlain run and Ardery’s 11-yard run up the middle — to take a 14-7 lead with 7:21 still left in the quarter.
Stratford managed just 63 yards over the remainder of the half, however, and Morrison tied the score with 7:43 left when Quinata capped a 70-yard drive with a seven-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-two. The big play in the march was a 38-yard pass from Venus to Walls that carried to the 15 four plays before Quinata’s score.
Morrison threatened twice more in the final minutes of the half, but Lawson — whose interception in the end zone had killed a Wildcat drive late in the first quarter — picked off his second pass of the night at the Stratford 7 to end the first threat. The second died when Venus threw incomplete on fourth down in the face of a heavy rush at the Bulldog 35 with 55 seconds left in the half.
Watts finished with 15 tackles, but he was just one of 11 heroes for the Bulldogs on defense. Barber added 11 tackles, Chamberlain had 10 from his defensive end spot, Cosby had eight stops to go with his fumble recovery, and Gaines, Miller and John Sinnett added seven tackles apiece.