By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- For three years, Strasburg and Warren County have met on the gridiron to open their respective seasons. In 2007, Strasburg blanked the Wildcats, 35-0. For the past two years, however, it's been all Warren County.
It's a matchup that has since blossomed into a mini-rivalry, giving a long-standing single A program the chance to take on a much younger, double A team. For each school, the rivalry has its benefits, but those perks aren't without drawbacks.
Over at Warren County, coach Tony Tallent is still in the midst of building a successful and steady program, and this year could potentially be the season where the Wildcats jump forward. Despite finishing last year 3-7, Warren County returns several starters on both sides of the ball.
"We've practiced really well, especially this week," Tallent said. "The kids are focused, they're ready to go out and play, and since we have some experience back practice runs a little bit smoother. Everybody knows what the transitions are, so I've been really happy with that aspect."
The Wildcats will once again feature a heavy rushing attack, led by tailbacks Gage Steele and Damien Caison. Behind them lies a handful of young running backs eager to prove themselves, which will allow Steele and Caison enough down time to start on the defensive side of the ball, where Caison anchors the defensive line and Steele shines as a linebacker.
Down in Strasburg, however, Rams coach Mark Roller knows all too well the type of damage Steele and Caison can inflict, and his team has been working toward preparing for the two-headed monster and erasing a dismal 1-9 campaign in 2009. It hasn't been easy, though. With Warren County's only scrimmage canceled earlier this month, Roller and his coaching staff haven't had much to go on when it comes to getting a look at this season's Wildcats team.
"It's tough," Roller said. "You only get one film and you kind of have to go back to what they did last year, see what kind of stuff they ran and the defenses they threw at people. We know they're pretty good in the backfield with the returning of Steele and Caison. Those two guys are pretty big and tough to handle so, not that the rest of the team is a bunch of slackers, but those two are physical specimens, so it's tough to prepare for."
In addition to having to deal with Steele and Caison, the Rams find themselves at an annual disadvantage facing a double A program in the first game each year.
"We've been on the down side the past two years that I've been here, but it's tough when you come out and lose to a double A school," Roller said. "You just can't get that energy to kick-start the rest of the season. It is fun, however, because I think it's a challenge for our kids to say, 'Hey, here's a double A school, how can we compare to them?' So it's fun in a way, but sometimes it can be a little bit devastating for the kids."
Fortunately for the Rams, tonight's matchup will be the final year these two teams will open the season against each other, at least for the time being. For now, however, the rivalry continues, showcasing two teams eager to bounce back from disappointing seasons.
"I really respect coach Roller and what he's done with that program," Tallent said. "I think that due to the way the split came, it's really a travesty we won't play because I think we're two young programs and I think we're able to work off one another, and I'm sad to lose them off our schedule."
"Facing a double A school is tough," Roller said. "That's always tough coming off of a 1-9 season, but the kids will be fired up and they're excited about the season and out to prove a point that they can play a little bit."
Berkeley Springs at Clarke County
It's been nearly two full years since Clarke County lost a regular season game, falling to Eastern View back on Sept. 19, 2008. Since then the Eagles have rattled off 17 wins, including a 45-0 win over Berkeley Springs in last year's opening game. The two teams will meet again tonight at Wilbur M. Feltner Stadium, where senior Grant Shaw and junior Drew Paice will look to keep the Eagles on the winning path.
Briar Woods at Millbrook
Last season, a thrilling, 65-yard punt return from then-junior Jordan Hartman lifted Millbrook to a seven-point win over Briar Woods. Tonight, Hartman is back and looking to lead the Pioneers to consecutive wins over the Falcons and help Millbrook get off on the right foot. The task won't be easy, however. Briar Woods returns senior running back Michael Brownlee, who rushed for 99 yards in last season's matchup.
Park View at Sherando
Kicker Justin Haines netted a game-winning field goal as time expired last year to give Sherando the 24-21 win over Park View. Who knew that opening game would feature a contest between two teams that would both advance to the regional playoffs? This season, both Park View and Sherando are looking to push one step further, and will both have their hands full in Stephens City. For the Warriors, quarterback Jalen Brisco is back, along with offensive threats Tre and Dominique Porter. Meanwhile, the Patriots have lost quarterback Brandon Lee to James Madison University and wide receiver Tommy Sedeski to Princeton, but return a slew of young talent.