Somebody needs to step up and make a play.
Caleb Glennon apparently heard the message loud and clear.
The Amherst senior defensive back’s interception and 52-yard return set up the winning score Nov. 3 in the Falcons’ 21-14 win over Stratford in a Level 3 football playoff game.
Glennon wasn’t the only Falcon to come up with a big play in the game’s final minute, as Chris Zblewski connected with Ryan Makuski for a 24-yard touchdown pass with 12 seconds remaining on the clock to snap a 14-14 tie.
The win means the 11-0 Falcons will play in the state semifinals for the first time in school history. Amherst will take on defending Division 5 state champion Colby at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9, in a Level 4 matchup at Stiehm Stadium in Schofield. Colby is 9-2 on the season and advance to the semifinals with a 14-6 win over Prescott.
There was a time when it looked like the Falcons’ season might come to an end, as Stratford drive into the red zone late in the game, but didn’t score.
Running back Travis Urlaub took a handoff from quarterback Drew Spaeth and threw a 40-yard pass to Spaeth, who raced down the sidelines in front of the Amherst bench before being caught at the 7-yard line.
A successful field goal would have given the Tigers the win, but Stratford never got the chance, as a pair of penalties resulted in a fourth-and-27 situation. Glennon picked up Spaeth’s pass and returned it to the Stratford 39-yard line.
“That was a heck of a call at that moment,” coach Mark Lusic said. “I’m sure they’ve been working on that all year, but we made the tackle. We made them run three or four more plays and Glennon comes up with the big interception. The return was key because if he gets tackled right away, we’re probably going to overtime.”
It didn’t take the Falcons long to find the end zone, as Zblewski completed a 15-yard pass to Max Strand and came up with the game-winner on the next play.
“We’ve saved that play all year, but we actually ran it about 10 times today,” Lusic said. “It was one of those plays that worked. We were finding holes in their zone and our receivers can find holes. It paid off. I was happy when he got into the end zone because I didn’t want to call another play from the goal line.”
That’s because the Falcons were inside the Stratford 5-yard line twice in the second half and came away without any points after a fumble and blocked field goal.
Stratford never got a chance to go for the win or tie, as Amherst recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock.
Stratford’s Eli Temanson opened the scoring in the second quarter with a 16-yard run, but the Falcons responded with Zblewski’s 9-yard run late in the first half that tied the game at 7-7.
Connor Zblewski gave the Falcons their first lead with a 4-yard TD run in the third quarter, but the Tigers’ Travis Urlaub found the end zone from 5 yards out later in the quarter to tie the game at 14-14.
The Falcons outgained the Tigers 156-127 on the ground and 152-132 through the air.
Connor Zblewski led Amherst with 112 yards on 16 carries, while Strand caught a team-high four passes for 51 yards.
“Our defense may have given up 14 points, but they played a heck of a game,” Lusic said. “They kept us in the game. Our offense stalled twice inside the 5 and they bailed us out. You need your seniors to make plays. The seniors definitely showed up today.”
Lusic coached the Falcons to Level 3 of the playoffs last year for the first time in school history. This year, they’re moving on to Level 4.
“When I was coaching in Waupaca, (Waupaca coach John Koronkiewicz) always told me, ‘If you want to win in the playoffs, you have to do both things, throw the ball and run the ball,'” he said. “If something doesn’t work, you’ve got to go to something else. Our goal is to not throw the ball 25 or 30 times. I’d be happy to run the ball every play. We’re a way better team now than we were in August and I’m hoping we’ll be better next week.”