By Jeff Nations
STRASBURG -- Shawn Owens had a premonition on Friday night.
The Strasburg sophomore defensive back had a feeling the ball was coming his way in the closing seconds of the Rams' home football matchup against cross-county rival Stonewall Jackson, a feeling that developed into a certainty as he spied Generals quarterback John-Michael Pirtle rolling out of the pocket toward the right sideline.
The ball was heading to Stonewall tight end Ryan Pugh, Owens was convinced of it -- and he intended to get there first.
Owens did just that, cutting in front of Pugh for a game-clinching interception at the Rams' 11-yard line with less than a minute to play to preserve a 23-22 Strasburg victory.
"It was a beautiful ball -- it was perfect," Owens said. "I just read it and jumped on it. I knew it was going to happen -- 25 seconds left in the game, I knew that play was going to happen. I saw him roll out and I knew he was going to hit that tight end. And I jumped on it."
Owens' pick capped a tremendous comeback for the Rams, who trailed 14-3 in the first half before regrouping in the final two quarters to win their third straight and even their season record at 3-3.
"Our kids did a great job there in the second half of coming back out and not getting down after being down early," Strasburg coach Mark Roller said. "They responded, stepped up and got a few stops and we were able to score."
Trailing 14-6 entering the third quarter, Strasburg pulled even on its first second-half possession with a quick-strike drive that covered 49 yards in 1:49. Billy Mann's 6-yard touchdown run capped the drive, but the big play came two plays earlier when Strasburg's Tommy Lucas fully extended to make a diving catch for a 28-yard reception down to the Stonewall 1-yard line.
Stonewall Jackson (0-4) had an answer, marching 71 yards on its ensuing drive to take the lead right back on Pirtle's 15-yard bootleg touchdown run with 4:27 left in the third. Pirtle tacked on a two-point conversion run to put the Generals ahead by eight.
The Rams, who struggled to do much offensively in the first half, proved they had found their rhythm in the third quarter by coming right back after Pirtle's touchdown with another scoring drive. Strasburg's Rakwon White (game-high 133 rushing yards) ripped off a 51-yard run on the Rams' first play from scrimmage, and Mann finished off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. Forced to go for two, Reynolds' pass attempt fell incomplete and the Rams still trailed by two.
After forcing another punt early in the fourth quarter, Strasburg came through once more on offense with a clock-devouring 13-play drive. Starting at their own 13, the Rams trudged down to Stonewall's 16 before the drive stalled to fourth-and-5.
Out came kicker Soren Nyang-Sorensen -- or rather, out limped the Rams specialist. After accounting for all of Strasburg's first-half scoring with a pair of 27-yard field goals, Nyang-Sorensen had injured his left ankle during the opening kickoff of the second half, enough so that Roller went to his backup for kickers the rest of the game.
"I said, 'Can you make it?,'" Roller said. "And he said, 'I can go, coach. I can go.' And I said, 'Can you make it?' He said, 'Yes, I can make it.' So we just went ahead because it was the best opportunity for us."
Faced with a 32-yard attempt, the junior foreign-exchange student split the uprights to give Strasburg its first lead with 3:47 to play. It was a tense moment, even though Nyang-Sorensen said his longest career field goal is 47 yards -- in Denmark.
"I played American football in Denmark for three years," Sorensen said. "... It's a little different, now that I'm here."
Behind Pirtle, the Generals rallied one last time. Facing a fourth-and-12 at the Strasburg 44, Pirtle willed his way to a first down with a dash through the heart of Strasburg's defense for 14 yards. Two plays later, though, Owens stole the spotlight.
"It's one of those things where you do one thing to look like a million dollars, then you turn around and something bites you in the butt," Stonewall Jackson coach Dick Krol said. "We just haven't been able to seal the deal yet."
The Generals came agonizingly close after capitalizing on a pair of Strasburg first-half turnovers to build a solid lead. Pirtle's first touchdown pass of the season, a 17-yard strike to Nathan Taylor, put Stonewall up early, and his 48-yard completion to Pugh sparked another touchdown drive in the second quarter capped by Matthew McCampbell's 3-yard run.
It wasn't enough on Friday.
"Playing against Strasburg is the epitome of enjoyment for me," Krol said. "I don't like losing to them, but I tell you what -- they're a class outfit, from the day I got here 20-some years ago to today.
"They have been a class outfit, a class group of people to play against and I enjoy it. And the games are hard-fought and basically clean, hard-fought games. It's a great thing. I'd much rather be on the opposite side of that score but it was a heckuva a game for the fans and everybody else."