Don’t Stop Believing

Stratford’s varsity football team lost a hard-fought state championship game to the Westfield School 31-34 on Saturday, Nov. 30 at Mercer University.

Although the Eagles built up a 24-7 lead during the first half, the Westfield Hornets mustered a comeback in the closing minutes of the second quarter, and carried that momentum into the second half before finally pulling ahead 34-31 with less than five minutes left in the game.

The decisive moment came when the Eagles decided to go for the win rather than kick a tying field goal on 4th and 5 in the redzone with 1:42 left to play. But quarterback John Mitchell’s pass to Jonathan Hefner fell incomplete.  Westfield took over, and Hornets’ quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick took a knee as the final seconds of the game ticked away.

The loss capped an otherwise successful first season by Head Football Coach Mark Farriba, who previously coached at Stratford from 2003-2006 and returned to the Academy this year from Prince Avenue Christian School in Bogart.

“We gave it everything we had for 48 minutes, but it just seemed like they made the big plays when they needed them. No one has any regrets about our effort. It was simply an awesome game to be a part of,” senior safety Morgan Sowell said.

Stratford got off to an explosive start in the contest, with the Eagles’ talented senior class carrying the load.  Hefner added to his school record for career touchdown catches – set earlier this season – with two scores in the first half. Senior back Thomas Williams rumbled in for another score, and kicker William Ham, who will wear the red and black next year with the University of Georgia Bulldogs, put a field goal through the uprights.

“We were ready to play. We got off to a great start, and we played hard the whole game” Farriba said.

But Westfield began picking up steam in the second quarter, and ended the half trailing by only three points.

The teams traded scores early in the second half, including a third touchdown catch by Hefner and a fumble recovery by Westfield that put Fitzpatrick in position to toss an essential touchdown.

The Hornets pulled ahead after blocking a field-goal attempt by Ham on their own 20.  Then they marched down the field and took the lead, 34-31.

“We just had a couple of bad plays, and I thought that [Westfield] did a good job of regrouping and getting themselves together” Farriba said.

Seniors Williams and nose tackle Austin Oren represented the Eagles on Saturday, Dec. 7 in the GISA All-Star Game.

See the 2013 team highlights in stills here.