WAHOO — Wahoo was playing a little short-handed Thursday, so the Warriors put their playoff hopes on the shoulders of their defense and sophomore running back Ethan Stratman.
Stratman rushed 35 times for 222 yards and four touchdowns in Wahoo's 27-15 win against Fort Calhoun in the opening round of the Class C-1 state playoffs.
Wahoo (7-2) will face crosstown rival Bishop Neumann, a 41-18 winner against Logan View, in the second round Wednesday.
Stratman, who normally rotates with senior Josh Langemeier, scored on runs of 3, 81 and 10 yards on consecutive possessions to put the Warriors ahead 21-0 with 5 minutes, 28 seconds left in the second quarter.
“Ethan had to carry the load tonight,” Wahoo coach Chad Fox said. “We weren't able to rotate backs like we usually do. He held up well. We were going to try and run a lot of power football.”
Langemeier was one of three Wahoo two-way starters who sat out because of health reasons. “A lot of kids had to step up tonight,” Fox said.
Wahoo's defense did its part in the first half, limiting Fort Calhoun (3-6) to 76 yards on 32 plays, including 48 yards in the closing drive after the Warriors had taken a three-touchdown lead.
“Our defense played really well tonight again,” Fox said. “We've been leaning on them a little bit.”
Fort Calhoun started the third quarter by stopping Wahoo in four plays and took possession of the ball at its 43-yard line. The Pioneers drove 57 yards, aided by a pass-interference penalty and a 24-yard completion from Frederick Lehman to Tyler Pace, to cut the deficit to 13 points after a 9-yard touchdown run by Kyle Warthen and Lehman's two-point conversion run.
Wahoo, making its eighth straight playoff appearance and 19th overall, answered on its next possession when Stratman capped a 59-yard drive with a 10-yard run. The Warriors converted twice on fourth down, both times with Stratman gaining the necessary yardage.
Fort Calhoun struck again with a 76-yard pass from Lehman to Brayden Lake, who got behind the Wahoo secondary. The Pioneers trailed 27-15 with 1:23 left in the third quarter.
In the second half, “our goal was to outhit them and play disciplined football and have some old-fashioned fun,” said Pioneer coach Andrew Christensen. “We accomplished that. In the first half, we came out undisciplined. We made mental errors on offense.”
Fort Calhoun forced Wahoo to punt on its next possession, but a 15-yard penalty on the Pioneers for 12 men on the field gave the Warriors a first down. Wahoo then maintained possession for 11 more plays before giving up the ball on downs at the Fort Calhoun 4. The Pioneers could not advance past their 20 on their final three drives.