Amherst will see a familiar opponent in the next round of the WIAA state football playoffs.
The 11-0 Falcons will host 9-2 Bonduel at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7, in a Division 5 Level 3 matchup of Central Wisconsin 8 Conference teams. Amherst handed the Bears a 54-19 defeat earlier this season.
Both teams advanced to the next round of the playoffs with wins Oct. 31. Bonduel eliminated Iola-Scandinavia 33-20, while Amherst knocked Stratford out of the playoffs for the third straight year with a 41-6 win.
Neither team scored in the first quarter. Amherst quarterback Garrett Groshek opened the scoring following an interception with a 30-yard run. Tyler Biadiaz set up Amherst’s second touchdown by sacking Stratford’s Michael Bargender. Orean Trzebiatowski recovered Bargender’s fumble at the Stratford 22-yard line and Groshek scored from 3 yards out to give Amherst a 13-0 lead with 3:45 remaining in the first half.
Stratford answered on the next play, however, as Bargender connected with a wide open Jesse Dickman for an 82-yard touchdown pass.
The Falcons weren’t finished in the half, however, as Groshek hooked up with 33-yard TD pass to Josh Cisewski with 18 seconds on the clock to give Amherst a 19-6 advantage at the break.
“That’s the first time we ran that play all year,” coach Mark Lusic said. “We’ll have to run it again.”
A fumble on Amherst’s second play of the third quarter set the Tigers up at the Falcon 9-yard line, but safety Ben Gutschow stepped in front of a Stratford receiver, picked off Bargender’s pass and raced 98 yards to the end zone. It was one of Gutschow’s three interceptions in the game.
“Ben Gutschow is a tremendous player and he doesn’t get the credit,” Lusic said. “He does that all the time in practice to our starters. It’s great to see it in a game. He was tremendous.”
Gutschow’s interception and two-point conversion gave the Falcons a 27-6 lead after it looked like the Tigers would cut Amherst’s lead to one touchdown.
Groshek added a 3-yard run later in the third quarter and Connor Zblewski capped the scoring with a 1-yard run with 7:10 to go in the game.
Zblewski, who rushed for 219 yards in last year’s 21-7 win over the Tigers, finished with 40 yards on 10 carries. However, Groshek finished with 158 yards.
“They took Connor away this year and really keyed on him,” Lusic said. “Garrett made the right reads and ran the ball well. Connor actually did a tremendous job blocking up front. The big thing is Garrett’s more patient this year. He doesn’t just run into the hole, he waits for the blocks to develop. He’s become a much more dangerous runner.”
The Falcons outgained the Tigers 227-96 on the ground and 147-115 through the air.
“We could’ve thrown a little more tonight, but the running game was going,” Lusic said. “It was a great team effort. Anytime you win in the playoffs, you have to enjoy it and relax. We’ll worry about Bonduel tomorrow.”