After scoreless first half, Rockets can’t contain Stratford
In a Central Wisconsin-Large Conference game decided by four Stratford second-half touchdowns, it was a series of plays late in the first half that did not result in any points that Spencer-Columbus head football coach Jason Gorst saw as crucial in the final outcome. In that second-quarter series, the Stratford defense held strong in the shadow of its own goal line and denied the Rockets a touchdown to preserve a halftime tie and open the door for a big second half on its way to a 28-0 win.
The first 15 minutes of play in the Oct. 9 game at Ted Fritsch Field in Spencer featured four punts and a Rocket defensive stop on a fourth down. With 9:55 left in the half, the Spencer-Columbus offense mounted what would be its best drive of the night and its best chance to grab a lead.
Starting at its own 44-yard-line, Spencer- Columbus pushed quickly into deep Stratford territory. After Gage Stratman’s pass completion to Eden Jacobson was good for 22 yards to the Tiger 19-yard line, the Rockets came upon a fourth-and-13 situation and went for the home run. Stratman’s toss to Jacobson was incomplete in the end zone, but the Tigers were whistled for defensive holding and a 10yard mark-off. Now on fourth-and-3, the Rockets were whistled for holding, which put the ball back on the 22-yard-line for another try at fourth-and-13. Stratman went up top again, and this time the Tigers were called for pass interference.
Back to the 12-yard line for another fourth-and-3 the ball went, but this time Jacobson was able to ram off tackle to set up a first down at the Tiger 11. That’s when the Stratford defense said, “That’s far enough.”
Jacobson plowed forward for three yards on first down, and Will Gorst added three more on the next carry. Needing just two yards for a first down or three for a score, Jacobson was stacked up on each of the next two carries to end the threat.
“Their goal line stand was a big moment early in the game,” coach Gorst said.
With just over three minutes in the half, Stratford drove from its own 2-yardline all the way to the Rocket 35, before fumbling. David Ellefson got the recovery to keep the zeroes on the scoreboard for both sides at the half.
As it was on every drive except for the one that came up just short, the Rocket offense was smothered on the first drive of the second half. After a 3-and-out and a punt by the Rockets, Stratford took over at its own 28-yard-line and began what would be the first of four straight scoring possessions. Beau Gross had three carries on the drive, including a 52-yarder, and Stratford finally cashed in on a 20yard scoring pass from Max Vanderhoff to Kainoa Gouveia. The extra point kick missed and Stratford led 6-0 with 7:59 left in the third quarter.
Spencer-Columbus’ next three plays lost four yards, and Stratman punted again. Stratford then covered 71 yards on eight running plays, with Gross plowing in from four yards for the score. A conversion run from Elijah Lucio made it 14-0 at the 2:32 mark of the third period, Spencer-Columbus repeated the 3-andout and punt pattern on its next possession. A short kick gave the Tiger offense the ball just 37 yards from the Rocket end zone, and it needed just three plays to cover it. The touchdown came on the first play of the fourth quarter on Vanderhoff’s 22-yard toss to Devin Ulrich.
The Rocket offense didn’t last even three plays on its next possession, which ended on second-down fumble at the Rocket 15-yard-line. A fumbled long snap set the Tigers back to a third-and-18, but Gross got 17 of that back on the next carry and the Tigers pushed into the end zone again with 7:23 left in the game on Gross’ 2-yard run. The 2-point conversion set the final score at 28-0.
After a 2-0 start that included a road win at Nekoosa and a double-overtime home win over Manawa Little Wolf, the Rockets ran into an opposing defense that was too stout.
“Hats off to Stratford tonight,” coach Gorst said. “They outplayed us. Defensively we had a great first half, but we could not get anything going on offense.”
The Rocket offense managed only 85 total yards in the game, including 62 yards on 30 rushing attempts. Jacobson, who ran for 179 yards at Nekoosa and 129 against Little Wolf, could only scratch out 27 yards on 12 attempts against the Tigers. Stratman ran eight times, for 18 yards. He went to the air 11 times with five completions for 23 yards.
Stratford’s offense rolled for 296 yards in the game. The Tiger ground game accounted for 245 yards on 44 attempts. Gross had a 168-yard night on 25 carries and Gouveia added 40 yards on eight attempts.
Vanderhoff had an efficient game, completing five of six passes for 51 yards and two touchdowns.
Cole Timmler led the Rocket defense with 11 tackles on the night.
Spencer-Columbus will have a long road trip this Friday night, as it heads east to Shiocton for another Central Wisconsin Large Conference game. Shiocton started the season 0-2 after a 28-2 loss to Little Wolf and a 14-6 setback against Wittenberg-Birnamwood.
DEAN LESAR/STAFF PHOTO