Fantastic Friday night lights

Stratford Tigers revel in back-to-back state championships

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STRATFORD, Wis. — Dedication, perseverance and mental toughness played a key factor as the final seconds ticked off the clock before the Stratford Tigers football team captured their second Division 6 state championship title in a row Nov. 16 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. Those traits are ones Cole Tichy and Carter Lueck said they learned growing up immersed in dairy farming on their family’s farms near Stratford.

Tichy, a senior at Stratford High School, works on his uncle’s 2,000-cow farm, Maple-Ridge Dairy, and plays tight end on offense and is a defensive back. Lueck, a junior, works on his family’s 500-cow Harmony Ho Dairy and plays on both the offensive and defensive lines.

Those character traits were necessary during the championship game, as the Tigers were tied up at 7 points with the Darlington Redbirds with just 23 seconds left in the game. After a missed field goal, that second championship began to feel as though it were slipping through Stratford’s fingers as Darlington regained possession of the ball.

“I will probably never forget this last championship game for as long as I live,” Tichy said. “I had probably the best game of my life. I forced the fumble at the end that got us the ball back and set up the field goal that won the game. That is just a terrific memory.”

That fumble allowed Stratford to take possession at Darlington’s 25-yard line. As the tension built, holding was called against Darlington. This moved the Tigers 10 yards closer to scoring position and set up a second field goal attempt that this time made it through the uprights, lifting the Tigers to a 10-7 victory.

The seasons that produced the back-to-back championship titles will stick with the players for a long time, said Lueck.

“We only lost one game this year,” Lueck said. “We played Edgar the second week and had a rude awakening. We learned that maybe we weren’t quite as good as we thought we were. That game lit a fire under us as a team, and we never stopped working toward our goal. We went into the play-offs as if we had nothing to lose.”

Football is a way of life in Stratford. The community invests years of time and energy in growing and developing their young players, starting with a tackle football program in the third and fourth grade. Both Tichy and Lueck grew up in the program, and they said that longevity developed a close-knit team at the high school level.

“I just love the game of football and playing — the action, the intensity of it,” Tichy said. “I love going out there with my brothers and giving it our all. That’s what these guys are; they are my brothers.”

Lueck agreed.

“Almost everyone on the team has been playing together for close to 10 years,” he said. “We are like family. As a group, we’ve only maybe ever lost 10 or so games.”

Both Tichy and Lueck put in a tremendous amount of work as members of the football team, preparing and practicing both during the season and in the off-season.

Practices typically consist of a variety of drills and running plays along with a lot of conditioning, Lueck said.

“We are used to long, grinding seasons, and we spend a lot of time working on strength training and conditioning,” Lueck said. “Playing deep into the post-season is something we’ve become used to. Sometimes that takes a lot of mental toughness to keep your focus and drive for that long.”

Off-season, most members of the team spend time in the weight room, working to build strength and endurance.

“These two championships and the successes we have had didn’t just happen by chance,” Lueck said. “Everyone on the team puts in the effort both during football season and in the off-season.”

Lueck has moved from football into his wrestling season, but as a junior, he is looking forward to what his final season in shoulder pads might look like.

“I love the competitiveness of the game and competing with my friends,” Lueck said. “We practice hard, and then when we take the field on Friday nights, it’s our time to show what we’ve got.”

As a senior, Tichy is sad to see his days as a member of the Stratford Tiger’s football dynasty come to a close. He plans to attend either the University of Wisconsin-Platteville or the Milwaukee School of Engineering to pursue a degree in engineering.

“I like solving problems and fixing things,” Tichy said. “I’ve always been told I would make a good engineer.”

Tichy said his time spent growing up through the football program in Stratford has given him skills that will follow him through life.

“Football has really made me grow as a person,” he said. “I have learned how to stay out of my head and keep my cool during high-pressure situations. I have learned how to work with others and not get upset when things don’t go the way we might want. I’ve learned how to communicate through those situations.”

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