WICHITA FALLS - The Stratford Elks labored five weeks though the playoffs to finally get a chance to face a team almost identical to themselves.
Word of Advice: Stratford head football coach Eddie Metcalf talks with Tyler Haynes during a practice this week at Stratford as the Elks prepare to meet Shiner today in the Class 1A championship game at Wichita Falls. photo by Henry Bargas, Amarillo Globe-News
Power-oriented Shiner will meet Stratford's equally bruising attack for the Class 1A state football championship at 6 tonight in Memorial Stadium.
"This is something you only dream about. Right now I'm not even thinking about anything but playing this game," first-year Stratford head coach Eddie Metcalf said. "We're not finished this season, and there's not but two teams that can say that. Shiner has a tremendous football team, and we have tremendous respect for them. We hope to God we can go out and represent ourselves and the Panhandle well."
Shiner (15-0) finished the regular season ranked No. 1 statewide by The Associated Press. Stratford is making its second Class 1A state championship appearance in four years. In 2000, the Elks beat Burkeville 49-14.
Last season the Elks lost to Sunray in the state quarterfinals. Stratford began the year ranked No. 1 by Texas Football Magazine but slipped out of The AP rankings after two losses during the regular season.
The Comanches advanced to the 1A state championship game last season before losing 28-27 to Windthorst.
"It feels great to get back. Last year we lost in the championship, and some of the kids feel like we lost a golden opportunity," Shiner coach Steven Cerny said. "But I think the experience helps us.
"We've played a lot of big ballgames the past couple of years and won a lot of close ones. The other night we didn't play all that well, but we were good at keeping our poise and we were still able to win it."
Stratford and Shiner moved from Class 2A to 1A in the 2000 University Interscholastic League realignment. The teams spent nearly all season ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in 2000. However, Burkeville beat the Comanches in the state quarterfinals.
"Since we came down from Class 2A four years ago, we've been really close a couple of times," Cerny said. "I remember four years ago we seemed to be on a collision course with Stratford until we got derailed by Burkeville. That would have been a great game."
Shiner's offense involves a no-frills veer attack which relies on overpowering line play and execution. Chris Baer has rushed for 2,019 yards and 38 touchdowns. The Comanches' top lineman is 6-foot-2, 240-pound Clayton McCorkle, who was named to the Associated Press Sports Editors all-state first team this week.
"This is the first time in forever that we've seen somebody who is going to run the football right at us," Metcalf said. "From what we've seen on film, they run basically two plays. They run the option and they run the sweep to that Baer kid. They like to line up with two tight ends and just run right at you."
Stratford also favors the running game behind an impressive group of blockers. Tony Ruiz leads the team in rushing with 1,746 yards and 16 touchdowns. Quarterback Josh King has passed for 2,125 yards and 29 touchdowns. Tyler Haynes has a team-high 48 catches for 793 yards and 11 touchdowns.
"They try to play the kind of football we like to play," Metcalf said. "They are big and strong and physical up front, just like we are. We don't think they like to pass much, at least not what we've seen. Nobody's really tried to pass against them, and we think that is something we do pretty well too."
Stratford vs. Shiner
The Game: Stratford Elks (13-2) vs. Shiner Comanches (15-0) for the Class 1A state championship, 6 p.m. today, Memorial Stadium, Wichita Falls.
Directions to Stadium: From U.S. 287, turn south on FM 369, which becomes Southwest Parkway.
Weather: At kickoff, 50 degrees with NW winds at 8 mph.
Radio: KXIT FM-96.3/AM-1240 and on the Internet at www. tsrnsports.com.
Fast Fact: Stratford is 689 miles from Shiner, which is 50 miles north of Victoria. It's the same distance as Stratford to Des Moines, Iowa.
The biggest difference between the teams may be defensively. Shiner has played solidly all season. The Comanches have recorded six shutouts this season, and the 17 points allowed to Big Sandy last week represent their playoff high. They have allowed double-figure points three times this season.
"We played Shiner last year and Stratford last week, and that's going to be one heckuva game," Windthorst coach Bill Green said. "I know one thing, Shiner has got about the toughest defense you will ever see. They are very good on that side of the ball. I would have to give an edge to Stratford because of the way they throw the ball. Shiner does not seem to want to throw much or at all sometimes. The way King can throw and the way his line gives him time gives them somewhat of an advantage."
Stratford has experienced ups and downs. The Elks have given up more than 30 points six times, including twice in the playoffs.
"Stratford's line did a great job of controlling both sides of the line," Green said. "My son (Brad Green) said every time he took a snap, that nose guard (Martin Beltran) hit him, and that hadn't happened all year.
"That No. 55 (Mark Miller) just dominated at the right tackle. Their line play is outstanding."
How They Fared:Stratford (13-2) West Texas High W 28-13 Panhandle W 48-36 Spearman L 34-37 Dalhart W 34-6 Tulia W 48-41 Gruver W 42-14 Booker W 41-0 White Deer W 55-14 Sunray L 21-42 Vega W 33-13 Bidistrict: Quanah W 40-35 Area: Nazareth W 33-21 Regional: McCamey W 34-7 Quarterfinals: Sunray W 28-27 Semifinals: Windthorst W 34-31 Shiner (15-0) Poth W 24-6 East Bernard W 35-0 Boling W 60-0 Universal City Randolph W 32-31 Fall City W 40-0 Runge W 31-0 Louise W 66-7 Woodsboro W 50-0 Flatonia W 43-9 Pettus W 26-14 Bidistrict: Benevides W 44-0 Area: Charlotte W 37-7 Regional: Chilton W 24-7 Quarterfinals: Brackett W 21-7 Semifinals: Big Sandy W 21-17