Stratford ran into a great counter-puncher in Saturday night's Class 1A state championship game.
First-Half TD: Class 1A Player of the Year Chris Baer snakes through the Stratford defense for a six-yard touchdown late in the first half. Shiner defeated Stratford in the Class 1A championship game, 33-19. photos by Michael Lemmons, Amarillo Globe-News
Whatever the Elks did, Shiner did just a little more as the Comanches downed Stratford, 33-19, in Wichita Falls Memorial Stadium.
Stratford outgained Shiner. But the Comanches accomplished more with their opportunities. Both teams benefitted from big returns on special teams. But Shiner's led directly to touchdowns. The defenses held the high-powered offenses under control. But Shiner's defense forced more turnovers.
"They were a great football team," Stratford coach Eddie Metcalf said. "It seemed like they had an answer for everything. We'd get something going and they'd respond and reverse everything back to them. For three or four weeks, we were the ones making the plays to keep the momentum. Saturday we had it done to us."
Stratford finished the season 13-3. No. 1-ranked Shiner completed a 16-0 season and its first state title since 1986.
In a game in which both sides prided themselves on execution, Shiner's was a little more efficient.
Shiner established control of the momentum and the flow of play in the first half. As has been the case all season, running back Chris Baer figured heavily in the Comanches' three first-half touchdowns as they took a 21-13 lead.
Immediately after Stratford took a 7-0 lead on an 88-yard touchdown pass from Josh King to Tony Ruiz, Baer returned the ensuing kickoff 88 yards to tie the game 7-7. Baer finished the season with 2,120 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns.
"We wanted to stop him. He's a great football player. He's the Class 1A Player of the Year," Metcalf said. "We held him under control for most of the game. But he made a couple of huge plays and great players will do that."
End of the Line: Stratford's Josh Lanning is tackled by a Shiner defender in Saturday night's Class 1A championship game. The Elks lost, 33-19.
Baer ran for all but one of the yards in a five-play, 71-yard touchdown drive to give the Comanches' their first lead. Baer ran four times on the drive, including the last two carries of 29 and 28 yards. After that outburst, Stratford's defense tightened on Baer. He finished the game with 128 yards, and 70 came on that one drive.
Baer served as a decoy on the Comanches' next scoring drive. The Elks defense shifted to stop Baer on the sweep. Shiner countered by faking to Baer and giving the ball to running back Kenzley Wright. Shiner converted two third downs in the drive and both resulted from carries by Wright.
Facing third-and-6 from the Shiner 36, Wright took an option pitch around left end 43 yards. On third-and-6 from the Elks 17, Wright took a pitch 11 yards to the Stratford 6. On the next play Baer blasted up the middle into the end zone and Shiner took a 21-13 lead.
"We played pretty good defense the whole night. If you look at the game, most of their offense came on four or five plays. But I can't be upset with the way we played. We went out and played hard. But when they needed something, they got it," Metcalf said.
Stratford's defense solidified in the second half. The Elks held a 16:18 to 7:42 advantage in time of possession in the second half. The Elks forced three punts and a turnover by Shiner in the second half. That Shiner turnover led directly to a 3-yard touchdown run by Josh King to bring the Elks within 21-19 with 3:30 left in the third period.
But each time Stratford threatened, Shiner found an immediate answer.
Chase O'Connor's 37-yard kickoff return after King's touchdown gave the Comanche's the ball at the Stratford 36-yard line. On the next play Shiner's only completion of the game went for a touchdown to push their advantage to 27-19.
Shiner's last touchdown came after a turnover, and that all but put the game out of reach.