Stratford extends winning streak to 19 with exciting win over Panhandle
STRATFORD — The Stratford Elks needed a big game.
Sophomore quarterback Bryce Braden and the Elks’ offense delivered.
The talented dual-threat option behind center for the defending Class 2A Div. II champions followed his strong offensive line and hit the hole hard before sprinting into the end zone from 27 yards out to put the Blue and White ahead of Panhandle 40-35 with just under six minutes left.
Stratford’s defense made a crucial stop and forced a turnover on downs before kneeling out the rest of the clock to win its 19th straight game.
“Panhandle does a good job,” Stratford coach Matt Lovorn said. “We have so much respect for those guys. They’re very well coached and for them to come here, we knew it was going to be a heck of a football game. … We got the score going and then we leaned us on our defense like we have all season. That last drive we came up with some good plays and our defense stepped up.”
It was a back-and-forth battle between two District 1-2A Div. I rivals riding impressive winning streaks heading into Friday night’s contest. The Elks had won 18 straight overall games dating back to early in the 2021 season, while the Panthers had won 12 straight district games.
One of those streaks had to end in the second week of the district schedule, and it was only fitting that it took all of 48 minutes to decide a winner.
Panhandle struck first with two touchdowns on 10 total plays on the first two offensive possessions of the night. The Elks never went away, however, as they used their strong one-two combination of Braden and senior Zane Burr to wear down the Panther defense and close the gap to two points at halftime.
“We just tried to get as many yards as we could and just make plays,” Burr said. “We got into a tough match [formation] and began to run over them. That’s what Stratford is all about – laying it on the ground and just running everyone over. It was a bit closer than we really wanted, but we did well and stood our ground.”
Stratford exploded out of the locker room and extended its lead to two touchdowns in the third quarter. First, Burr broke free for a 20-yard touchdown run, and on the next drive, Braden executed a hesitation pass play to perfection to his older brother, Luke, for a 34-yard score.
The Panthers scored two touchdowns in a span of 19 seconds on runs by Landyn Hack and Wyatt Brookshire. After Hack’s score, the Elks fumbled the ensuing kickoff to set up a short run by Brookshire.
Both teams battled for the remaining 12 minutes before the Elks emerged victorious in this Class 2A Division I heavyweight matchup.
“That’s an outstanding football team,” Panhandle coach Dane Ashley said. “I knew it was an outstanding football team. Coming out of this game, I think we’re a very good football team. It’s the best defense, I think, in the region. We were able to move the ball up and down the field . a couple of times. I feel like we stopped ourselves and had some bad penalties. I feel like we can score with anybody. Hats off to coach Lovorn, he’s a good coach and came out with a good plan in the second half .”
Next: Stratford (7-0, 2-0) will hit the road to face Sanford-Fritch next Friday night, while Panhandle (5-2, 1-1) will host West Texas High.
STRATFORD 40, PANHANDLE 35
Pan handle 14 0 8 13 — 35
Stratford 6 6 16 12 — 40
PAN – Wyatt Brookshire 19 rush (Landyn Hack kick); 10:41 a.m
STR – Bryce Braden 3 rush (Antonio Duran fumbled); 4:43
PAN – Cooper Neil 39 pass from Landyn Hack (Hack kick); 3:41 a.m
STR – Zane Burr 1 rush (two-point fail); 9:23
STR – Zane Burr 20 rush (two-point pass); 7:22
STR – Luke Braden 34 pass from Bryce Braden (two-point pass); 3:51
PAN – Landyn Hack 4 rush (two-point successful); 0:18
PAN – Wyatt Brookshire 1 rush (Bucket hack kick); 11:59
STR – Zane Burr 1 rush (Duran kick missed); 8:54 am
PAN – Landon Durst 12 pass from Landyn Hack (Hack kick); 7:04 am
STR – Bryce Braden 27 rush (two-pointer failed); 5:40
Urgent – Stratford: Zane Burr 23-211, Bryce Braden 21-174, Santiago Ibarra 2-11, Vicente Morrillon 2-0. Panhandle: Wyatt Brookshire 18-186, Landyn Hack 16-62.
Passing – Stratford: Bryce Braden 5-7-0-109. Panhandle: Landyn Hack 16-30-0-195.
Receives – Stratford: Luke Braden 2-75, Santiago Ibarra 2-28, Zane Burr 1-6. Panhandle: Cuyler Mize 9-124, Cooper Neil 2-50, Landon Durst 1-11, Wyatt Brookshire 2-10, Kelby Olson 2-0.