Stratford and Albany set for powerful showdown in state semifinal

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[Graphic by Brent Seals. Photos by David Erickson, and Evan Ren]

When Stratford and Albany do battle in a Class 2A Division II state semifinal on Thursday night at PlainsCapitol Park Lowrey Field in Lubbock, it will be a matchup of two teams steeped in playoff tradition.

The Elks will be playing in their 11th state semifinal since 1999, and third under seventh-year head coach Matt Lovorn.

Albany is playing in its seventh semifinal since 2000, and fourth since 2014 under legendary head coach Denney Faith. Faith has guided the Lions for an 34 incredible seasons, ranking as one of the all-time leaders in Texas coaching history with 330 victories during that stretch.

“We have all the respect in the world for coach Faith and his program,” said Lovorn, who is 76-21 during his time as Stratford’s head coach. “They are one of those teams that is always fundamentally sound, and never makes mistakes. This will be a huge matchup for us, but we look forward to it. When you’re playing this time of year, you can’t beat it.”

Faith agreed.

These two program’s are also no strangers to each other. Stratford beat Albany, 28-0, on the way to the Elks third state title in 2008. The Lions gained a measure of revenge in 2009, downing the Elks, 28-14.

The two teams have also beaten some powerful programs on the way to this semifinal. Stratford (13-1 overall) took down reigning Region I champion Wellington, 26-6, last week in the state quarterfinals.

Albany (13-0) has defeated two top 5 ranked teams over the past two weeks to win Region II. In the regional semifinals, the Lions defeated Muenster, 34-21, then knocked off defending state champion, Windthorst, 28-14 in the state quarterfinals last week.

“We’ve had to battle so far through our region playing Muenster and Windthorst,” Faith said. “Those were hard-fought wins, so we feel we’ve been tested. But now here’s Stratford. We know Stratford is another huge game for us, and they present a big challenge.”

Both the Elks and Lions rely on stingy defense. Albany has allowed just 90 points in 13 games, giving up only 6.9 points a contest.

Stratford is allowing 9.1 ppg, and only 185 total yards a game. Running the ball on the Elks has been an entirely different issue, with Stratford’s aggressive unit holding its opponents to just 110 yards per outing.

Offensively, both teams are balanced. Stratford senior quarterback Cody Rinne, who has thrown and rushed for over 1,000 yards this season with a combined 32 touchdowns, is one to keep an eye on.

Albany counters thanks to junior quarterback Cole Chapman. Chapman has thrown for 2,141 yards with 33 touchdowns and rushed for 741 yards with another eight touchdowns. Chapman, along with a plethora of backs can wreak havoc for a defense.

“Albany’s quarterback is really good,” Lovorn said. “He can run, but he also has a great arm. That keeps them balanced. They’ve been running the same defense for many years now.

“They are really aggressive, they love to get in your face, and they just get after it. We’ll have to be playing our best.”

Faith agreed.

“I see a lot of us in Stratford,” Faith said. “They aren’t going to be flashy, but they do everything right. They block and tackle extremely well, and they are very disciplined. They have a great quarterback, good running backs and receivers, and their defensive line is tremendous.”

The Stratford-Albany winner will play the winner of Mart and Falls City in the Class 2A Division II state championship game at 11 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 15, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

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