It was a case of deja vu all over again.
For the second year in a row, Amherst hosted Stratford in a Division 5 state quarterfinal football team.
For the second year in a row, the Falcons came out on top.
The Falcons’ latest win over the Tigers, a 21-7 decision Nov. 8, has Amherst one win away from a return trip to state. The defending Division 5 champions will take on Stanley-Boyd at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, at Stiehm Stadium in Schofield in a state semifinal matchup. Kewaunee will face Lancaster Nov. 15 in Brookfield in the other semifinal and the winners will play for a state championship at 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.
Stratford came into the game with a 10-1 record and 22 seniors on its roster, but trailed 14-0 at halftime. Connor Zblewski put the Falcons on the board with a 1-yard run to cap Amherst’ opening drive and added a 50-yard scoring run with 2:28 remaining in the second half.
The junior finished with a game-high 219 yards.
“The O-line and D-line definitely set the tone tonight,” coach Mark Lusic said. “I said before the game that we were going to ride these guys and we rode them. That was a heck of a job by those five guys up front.”
A trick play put the Tigers on the scoreboard midway through the third quarter, as Eli Temanson took a handoff on a double reverse and scored from 30 yards out.
“They put that touchdown up there on a double reverse and we looked at each other and said, ‘If that’s what it takes to beat us, so be it,’” Lusic said.
Zblewski left the game on Amherst’s next drive with an injury and his replacement, Austin Boelte, responded with a pair of first-down runs to keep the drive alive.
“We preach all the time, ‘Next guy in, you can’t wait, you can’t pout, the guy’s out, you’ve got to go,’” Lusic said. “We didn’t change any part of the offense. He’s expected to fill in and he did it. He ripped off two long runs.”
Zblewski returned to the lineup later in the drive, but the Falcons ended up turning the ball over on downs Stratford’s 7-yard line. After the defense forced a three-and-out, the Falcons added to their lead on the next drive, as Garrett Groshek and his brother, Garth, connected on an 11-yard touchdown pass with 6:52 remaining in the game.
Garrett Groshek also came up with an interception in the end zone to end Stratford’s next drive and the Falcons were unable to run off the remaining 4:37 without giving the ball up.
“Connor Zblewski sure ran like a man tonight,” Lusic said. “He had an unbelievable game. Connor ran hard and for the most part, (Garrett) Groshek made the right reads. I don’t know how many he completed, but we threw the ball when we had to.
“We made enough plays to get them out of what they wanted to do,” he added. “Sometimes, we had to line up and say, ‘Here you go, Connor, go make a play and run behind these big boys.’ He did that.”
The Falcons are now preparing for the 12-0 Orioles, a 28-3 winner over Bloomer in Level 3. Amherst will take an 11-1 record into the game.
“The depth of our team is starting to finally show up,” Lusic said. “At the beginning of the year, it was pretty thin. Now, it’s starting to build. This was a heck of team effort. Every guy contributed to a great team win.”