By Jeremy Stafford - email@example.com
STRASBURG -- Stonewall Jackson senior Patrick Bain walked off the pitch with a strip of black tape wrapped around his injured hand. Generals senior Dylan Dawson walked back from the Strasburg bench, where the first aid kit lay, with a fresh bag of ice packaging his dislocated shoulder.
Senior Hayden Miller, though it wasn't evident in his walk, had a slight pain in his hip.
Likewise, though Stonewall Jackson's 6-2 win over Strasburg didn't show it, an intense Shenandoah County rivalry had been renewed Friday on Glenn Proctor Field at Ram Stadium.
"I've never had this much of a fight to win this game," Miller said of his near-four years worth of matches against Strasburg. "Now that we have, there is definitely a big county rivalry.
"It's always been about Central this way, but now Strasburg came out hard, and we gotta go out hard next game."
The Rams didn't just come out hard, they came out quickly, and with intent.
In the game's opening minute, Strasburg forward Nika Kartvelishvili launched a shot from 35 yards out. The ball sailed over half the Strasburg pitch, then over Miller's head.
It was the fourth time in as many years that Strasburg, at home, had nicked Miller from that far out.
Following Kartvelishvili's improbable score, the frustrations mounted for Stonewall Jackson.
Miller and Kartvelishvili collided while jumping for a 50-50 ball, and Miller landed on his hip. Then Bain, who recently signed to play NCAA Division I soccer at Longwood, injured his thumb.
In the 15 minutes following Strasburg's score, the Rams held possession for no more than a few broken moments, while Stonewall Jackson unloaded eight shots at Rams keeper Daniel Wilson.
None of them went in.
Bain, on the cusp of breaking Stonewall Jackson's career assists record, was still searching for his first assist of the season.
When forward Caleb Golladay bounced a shot from the top of the 6-yard mark to the goal's side-netting, the Stonewall Jackson faithful erupted in bliss.
Finally, the Generals resembled the team that danced its way to the Group A state semifinals last season.
Then Wilson called the attention of the referee, trotted outside the goal, and picked up the ball.
Golladay's head fell limp, as did the Stonewall Jackson cheers. The frustration of the short sequence was a microcosm of how the entire game seemed to be spiraling down into a dismal, goal-less drought.
"We didn't expect them to be this good," admitted Stonewall Jackson midfielder Juan Luna, who scored the Generals' first goal on a penalty kick in the 28th minute.
Though Luna's goal didn't open a floodgate of Stonewall Jackson scores, it did bring a fresh sense of renewal to the Generals: "It tied it up and gave us a little more motivation," Luna said.
But Strasburg, the county rival which has hardly lived up to its end of the bargain the last two years, pushed the thorn ever deeper into Stonewall Jackson's heel.
In the previous three seasons, spanning six matches, Strasburg celebrated only one win over Stonewall Jackson. Bain, Miller and Dawson were all freshmen then.
In those six matches, the Rams had scored a combined four goals against the Generals, and given up 31.
As the final curtain drew on the match, Strasburg might have doubled over from yet another pounding to the gut. The Rams instead spoke of a confidence not normally wrought from such a loss.
"We knew coming into this game that we have a whole different team than we've had in the past," Strasburg coach Joel Ross said. "We came in knowing that we would have the ability to beat Stonewall, and we're leaving this game knowing that we have the ability to beat Stonewall, George Mason, Clarke -- any other team in the state."
Stonewall Jackson did score twice in the final 11 minutes of the first half, but Strasburg scored, once again, in the opening minute of the second half. Dawson collapsed while trying to fend off that scoring sprint. His shoulder popped out of, then back into, its socket.
As dually devastating as that goal was, Miller also said it was the very moment Stonewall Jackson finally began glimmering like the Generals of old.
Bain dished out his first assist of the season in the 34th minute on a Golladay score, then netted his first goal of the season on a free kick in the 62nd minute.
"This is one of those things I don't think you can really prepare for," Stonewall Jackson coach Nate Hissong said. "You just gotta work through it, and fortunately our guys were able to do that."
When the game ended, the clouds of frustration cleared. Injuries were tended to, and relationships were mended.
After Strasburg's initial score, Miller admitted he let his emotions overrule his senses.
"I ... apologized to Matt [McCampbell] and Caleb Miller -- they both had good games," Hayden Miller said of his Stonewall Jackson teammates. "I yelled at them out of frustration, I yelled at Hissong out of frustration. I apologize to everyone for that.
"I have that on my mind right now and I feel bad for it."
So it goes when, in a single game, a silly county skirmish explodes into a bitter county rivalry.