With less than a minute to go, Stratford was reeling.
Having seen a 17-point lead evaporate in the second half against Tattnall Square and trailing by three points, the Eagles faced a third and long from their own 14-yard line.
But quarterback Christian Palmer pulled the Eagles from the dredges of despair with one flick of his wrist. The Stratford signal caller found an open Jonathan Siegel down the left sideline from an 84-yard gain, and Palmer found an open Nathan Hunt a play later from two yards away to put Stratford out front 27-23 with just 21 seconds to play.
The Eagles picked off Tattnall’s Miles Morris on the next play from scrimmage, giving Stratford (9-0) the top spot in next week’s GHSA Region 7-A crossover game.
Stratford led 20-3 early in the third quarter before Tattnall (7-2) showed that it had plenty of juice left in the tank despite last week’s tough loss to FPD. The Trojans came alive, getting their ground game going with Destin Mack’s 75-yard touchdown helping to make up his 193-yard night in which he atoned for a pair of fumbles.
It was nearly enough before the Eagles late heroics.
Four Who Mattered
Palmer: In Stratford’s run-based offense, the quarterback’s role can at times be one to keep opposing defenses honest. Palmer did more than that on Friday, tossing a trio of touchdown passes and throwing for 147 yards. But of those passes, none was bigger than the late third-down throw as he took advantage of good protection from his offensive line and a developing play, and the Eagles cashed in.
Siegel: His big catch capped off a strong multipurpose night as he also helped key Stratford’s balanced rushing attack with 55 yards.
Hunt: He was Palmer’s favorite target, hauling in 43 yards of catches including a third-quarter score that extended Stratford’s lead to 20-3.
Mack: It wasn’t a coincidence that Tattnall’s second-half comeback came at the same time that Mack started to get some traction on the ground. His running helped keep Stratford’s defense at bay and also freed things up for the Trojans other backs as well.
Eagles soar early: Other than an opening kickoff that was fumbled and turned into three Tattnall points, Stratford’s methodical offense had its way in the first half and into the third, getting first downs that it needed and using up clock. A pair of first-half touchdowns, followed by Palmer’s 20-yard pass to Hunt a play after Mack fumbled appeared to have Stratford rolling toward an easy win.
No quit: Tattnall would have been excused to a degree for rolling over down by 17 points. After all, the Trojans were a week removed from a loss to FPD in overtime. But after Mack’s second fumble, Tattnall held strong, forcing a missed field goal. That seemed to energize the Tattnall sideline, and that gusto showed with Mack’s 75-yard blast that got the Trojans right back in the game.
Fighting for it: Tattnall nearly lost the ball on its way to going ahead 23-20. A pass from Morris to Lance Franklin near the goal line was stripped by Stratford’s Trey Giles, but recovered by the Trojans at the goal line. Morris made sure Tattnall cashed in, scoring a play later on a quarterback keeper.
They said it
Palmer on the long pass: “We were definitely going for the score. I got the snap and had great protection from the line and stepped up in the pocket. Siegel ran a great route, he made a great catch and ran it in.”
Palmer on the Eagles confidence: “Our guys fought, kept the heads up and finished the game strong.”
Stratford head coach Mark Farriba on the win: “I really have to give both teams a lot of credit. At times, it looked like both teams were out and then both teams had a chance. Both teams really fought hard. We made some plays when he had to and then also made some bad plays. I thought our quarterback played really well.”
Farriba on the resilience of the Eagles: “We haven’t had a game quite like this yet. We knew one was coming. We had a bunch of guys that had to step up in some crucial situations.”
Tattnall head coach Chance Jones on the Trojans: “I was proud of their heart, they kept grinding. Down 20-3 after fumbling on our own 15 or something like that and our defense stepped up and turned the momentum around. The ending was tough, but I was really proud of them.”
Jones on the Trojans getting momentum with their running game in the second half: “I think the biggest thing was all 11 of them doing their jobs. In the first half, we had some drives stall, whether it was fumbles and missed assignments. When you get 11 guys doing their jobs, you can drive the football.”
Both teams will play in region crossover games next week. Opponents and locations are to be determined.