Stratford never saw it coming.
Admittedly, many Wildcat fans (and reporters) didn’t either.
On Friday night, after already suffering two defeats at the hands of rivals, the No. 6 Wildcats thumped the No. 2 Elks, 42-14 with all of Texas watching.
Canadian provided plenty of reasons for the homecoming crowd to get excited before kickoff ever even happened. After parading around town in their traditional black jerseys, the Wildcats began warmups with a new look. Gold-clad players swarmed the south end of the field.
“I was a little worried about how those would go over,” said Head Coach Chris Koetting, “but I think the response was pretty good. The kids like them. I thought they looked good.”
Whether or not the new look gave the struggling Cats some extra mojo, the team certainly looked much better playing in them.
Pregame also revealed the return of Cameron Copley to the gridiron. The all-state receiver and defensive back had spent the first three weeks of the season nursing a nagging wrist injury.
It didn’t take long for Copley to strike either. The very first play of the game had Douthitt laser a 23-yard pass on a crossing route to No. 2.
The very next play, Douthitt hit Manny Ramsey for a 31-yard gain. Coaches and fans were excited to finally see the one-two punch tandem anticipated all year by the senior outside receivers, but just as Copley made his return, Ramsey was sidelined by a leg injury.
“The only bad thing is we come out the first two plays and bam—hit Copley then Manny—and Manny’s out,” lamented Koetting. “I was just waiting on that day where we could have both of them on the field. That was the one negative on the night.”
Another 27-yard pass went to Copley and two plays later, Holton Hufstedler dove through the pile and into the end zone for a quick 6 points.
Stratford answered with a double-reverse pass trick play on third down. It looked like it might be another long night for the Wildcat defense.
As Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast!”
The trick play was almost half of the 173 total yards the Elks gathered throughout the rest of the night.
“Defensively,” said Koetting, “you take away two plays and they really didn’t do anything. You look at what they did rushing the ball, they did nothing. Our offense was better because our defense was so good.”
The defense played suffocating, physical football more akin to 2015 than the first third of this season. While juniors Bryce Chidester and Tyler Richardson each tacked on a sack to their season totals, Cade Throgmorton got his first official interception of 2016 and Matthew Lynch joined the ball-hawking ranks after doing it all last season on JV.
“The first possession,” said Copley, “they hit us on the deep ball, but once we started stuffing the run, they had to go to something else. They tried to go through the air, so we just locked down and did what we worked on all week. We gave up two pretty big plays, but other than that, they didn’t get a whole lot.”
The Elks quickly fell into a deep hole and their running game did nothing to help. Canadian held Stratford to only 45 yards rushing and forced the quarterback into 18 pass attempts. Coming into the game, Kade McBryde had only attempted 11.
Meanwhile, Douthitt racked up 254 yards passing—his second most this season—to the tune of a 64-percent completion rating. Of those yards, 152 went to Copley along with a 19-yard touchdown.
“When Cameron was officially in practice,” said Koetting, “it just seemed like there was a different vibe. With him out there, it just gave the other guys confidence. He just means so much to our team. He’s like a coach on the field. He knows the offense and defense as good as the coaches do. He’s just a special kid and special player.”
Douthitt’s best play of the night though, had to be when he hooked up with Hufstedler, who leapt in the back of the end zone, challenged the safety, and came down with the 14-yard touchdown catch.
“When I was little,” said Hufstedler, “I always wanted to do that. Watching Clint and Clay Cockrell back in 2007-08, I thought, ‘Man, I wanna be just like those guys.’ I’m getting that chance, and it’s just awesome. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Hufstedler was just hard to stop as the mammoth plowed across the goal line two more times for 24 total points.
“He’s just a football player,” said Koetting. “What jumped out to me this week was his impact at tight end. He played some offensive line last year, but there’s not near as much running. Now, he’s getting in good shape, he can handle both [offense and defense]. The previous weeks, he was just tired. This week he played fast.”
The entire performance was predicated on offensive line muscling their will on a physical Stratford team. Douthitt was rarely pressured in the pocket and Chris Jones had plenty of holes to run through to pick up his third-straight 100-yard game along with his fourth touchdown of the year.
The Wildcats enter their only bye week with a tolerable 2-2 record, but the next two games continue the mid-season gauntlet that will give an idea of how the team will fare in the playoffs.
“This was a real exciting game,” said Hufstedler, “but I’m done celebrating in about 15 minutes, and I’m ready for Vernon and getting better in the bye week. That’s the only way we’re going to reach our goal. We can’t dwell on one moment for too long.”
“We’ll work on some of our upcoming opponents,” said Koetting. “Probably won’t focus on just one team. Our philosophy in the open week is we focus on basics and fundamentals. I want the kids to feel like they’re getting a little bit of a break, both physically and mentally. They need that. The coaches need that too.”
Vernon has struggled early in the season as well, but Canadian has yet to scratch out a victory versus their 4A opponents this season. After that, the highly-anticipated district opener versus Childress awaits on the horizon.
These photos, and more, of the game can be viewed and purchased online at http://canadianrecord.smugmug.com/Sports/Wildcats-Football-vs-Stratford.
Photos by Peyton Aufill