By Jeremy Stafford -- firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- Strasburg's season has assuredly had its highs and lows, its peaks and valleys.
The Rams have stumbled through portions of the season and sprinted through others.
An early 0-3 bumbling was evened out by a 3-0 bludgeoning heading into Bull Run District play -- and that was offset by an 0-2 slip against Manassas Park and Clarke County.
Which puts Strasburg (3-5, 0-2 Bull Run) precisely where it is today: two games away from the end of its season, one game away from the seniors' final hurrah at Glenn Proctor Field at Ram Stadium.
Wouldn't it be something if Strasburg could knock off Madison County (6-1, 1-0), giving itself the inside track to a 5-5 season?
"We're all pretty pumped for it," Strasburg wide receiver Tyler Himelright said of tonight's 7:30 game. "A lot of us seniors, we know it's our last game on this field -- I plan on going all-out, and I know everyone else does."
But if anything, this past week in Strasburg has been about keeping emotions in check and correcting errors in execution.
Both have gotten the best of the Rams these past couple of weeks.
In a 35-7 loss to Manassas Park, Strasburg coach Mark Roller pointed to pregame homecoming festivities as being emotionally taxing on a football team. Which is a valid theory: Manassas Park, in its homecoming game, beat Luray by only 14 points -- bizarre considering Strasburg trounced Luray 40-7 to start its three-game spree.
"Of course we don't want to get too excited this week, because I feel like when you get too pumped up you lose a lot of energy during the week," Roller said. "I think we've gotten that fine line right now -- guys are focused.
"They've been on a three-game win streak, they liked what they got out of that, and they're ready to get back to winning."
But the Rams' most glaring downfall in their two recent losses has been that lack of execution. Last week's 49-7 loss to Clarke County is a case in point. Strasburg stopped Clarke County on its opening drive, then was similarly stopped on its first possession. Then came a few missed tackles, a couple of bungled assignments, and a 21-0 Clarke County lead heading into the half.
Here's what Roller said the Rams were able to do during that three-game streak: play soundly on defense and balanced on offense.
In wins against Luray and Stonewall Jackson, Strasburg rushed for 301 and 226 yards, respectively. Quarterback Michael Reynolds passed for a combined 158 yards in those wins.
But in the last two weeks, Strasburg's rushing game has managed only 284 yards, its passing game only 108 yards.
But then, Manassas Park and Clarke County are both quality football teams: large, bruising and powerful.
Madison County, though unbeaten in the Bull Run, boasts less power and more finesse than do Clarke County and Manassas Park.
In Madison County's 19-8 win over Stonewall Jackson, Mountaineers quarterback Dustin Farmer completed 10 passes for 179 yards. Needless to say, Strasburg's young secondary will be under heavy pressure tonight, perhaps similar to the pressure it was under at Central.
In that game, a 28-8 loss, Strasburg gave up seven completions and 135 yards to Central quarterback Matt Sherfey.
Madison County also boasts a strong running game with tailback Ralph Yates, which makes the Mountaineers potent and unpredictable.
"That's the thing, they're well-rounded," Roller said. "They can throw it and they can run it, and that's the thing you want to do, is keep the other team off balance."
Roller also said he thinks Strasburg matches up well with Madison County. Reynolds said that no matter how the teams match up, or how the game plays out, the key for Strasburg is that it plays hard throughout. More important than executing every play is playing with pride for every play.
"Right now, 5-5 is where we want to be," Reynolds said. "I mean, that's the best goal we can do now.
"We're just going to play hard ... we're going to expect to win, but not go in there overconfident, because you can't do that."