BLANCHARD — No opposing defense has been up to the task of stopping Blanchard running back Braden Stringer this season.
But with an iced-over field and freezing rain falling on Friday night, Stringer had to overcome two opponents — the weather and the Newcastle defense.
He conquered both.
The senior appeared to be the only player unfazed by the conditions, rushing for 231 yards and five touchdowns on 25 carries as top-ranked Blanchard cruised to a 41-0 victory over Newcastle in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs.
“The conditions were really tough,” Stringer said. “But going against a rival like Newcastle, you've got to block out the pain and make it through the game. You can always rest and be warm after.”
The Lions put the game out of reach early, as Stringer rushed for three touchdowns and 107 yards in the first quarter to give Blanchard a 20-0 lead.
“Braden has such great balance and feet that these conditions really don't bother him as much as it does other players,” said Blanchard coach Jeff Craig. “Surprisingly, with this weather, we played pretty clean. We won the turnover battle, and in this stuff that's what you're trying to do.”
Blanchard's defense was stellar, holding Newcastle to 130 total yards and forcing five turnovers in what was one of its best performances of the season.
“In a lot of games teams have scored on (us) late or we've set them up with turnovers and penalties,” Craig said. “Now that we've stopped doing that on offense, our defense is able to keep people out of the end zone. If they're going to score we want them to go earn it, and our offense is doing a better job of helping our defense with that.”
Blanchard, the defending Class 3A state champion, has won 16 consecutive games going back to last season.
“It's just like last year,” Stringer said. “We started getting hot in the playoffs, and I think this is when we start steamrolling people.”
Despite the winning streak, Craig didn't believe the Lions were playing their best football for much of the season, but he's liked what he's seen the past two weeks in two playoff wins.
“I think we've fixed the penalty and turnover problems,” Craig said. “We've got our focus back this time of year, and we understand the importance of taking care of the ball. It's good to have that working in our favor now.”
Blanchard (11-0) will travel to Lincoln Christian in the quarterfinals of the Class 3A playoffs next Friday.