The loss to Aquinas in the GHSA region 7A championship game is almost forgotten and the quest for a deep playoff run for Stratford starts Friday night with a home game against Fellowship Christian, a team that lost in the state championship game a year ago.
While the Aquinas game was a difficult loss, Stratford played without Tobe Umerah, a Stanford signee, and Larson McDaniel, and lost another starter early in the game. After having a bye last week, Stratford is rested and healthy.
“We should have everyone back for Fellowship Christian, but if we would have had to play last week, I can say that Tobe would not have been able to play in that game,” said Stratford head coach Mark Farriba, whose team made it to the semi-finals of the GHSA A-Private championships two years ago. “Not having Tobe on the field hurts us in a few ways, with the first one being is that he is a really good football player and we don’t have another one of him sitting around. But the other reason is just the boost we get mentally from having our best player on the field. The bye week was crucial for us, and I think everyone is ready to go on Friday night.”
Fellowship Christian comes in a 7-4, but all four losses were to teams that are still in the playoffs. They are led by quarterback Brooks Bryant, who has thrown for over 1,700 yards and has thrown for over 200 yards in three straight games, including 282 in their playoff win over George Walton. Senior Merrick Haigler has 895 yards rushing this year while receiver Casey Barham exploded in the win over George Walton with 210 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
“Fellowship Christian does a really good job of running and throwing the football and they can do both from multiple formations,” Farriba said. “This is a team that seems to be getting healthy at the right time and most of these guys played in a state championship game last year and almost won. We expect a very difficult challenge from a very good football team.”
Stratford however, has weapons too, and will attempt to keep the ball away from Fellowship Christians powerful offense. Deondre Duehart, Tyler Jordan, and Jonathan Siegel have combined for 2,200 yards of rushing to go with 35 touchdowns, while quarterback Christian Palmers has shown consistent improvement and has thrown for 528 yards.
“We would like to control the football and sustain drives but we will have to put points up at the end of those drives,” Farriba said. “We have had a great two weeks of practice and everyone gets excited when we practice under the lights. If you are getting to practice under the lights that means you are in the playoffs, and that’s the reason we work so hard all year.”