By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
BERRYVILLE -- Strasburg tailback Rakwon White galloped through the Clarke County defense for 268 yards and three touchdowns Friday, leading the Rams to a 34-27 win.
"I can't really take all of the credit, my offensive line really opened things up for me tonight," White said. "I love them all. They're the best offensive line I've ever played with. It was really special to have all of our fans out here supporting us, too."
The win sends Strasburg to the next round of the Region B football playoffs, and ends Clarke's season with an agonizing loss.
"We're very disappointed," Eagles coach Chris Parker said. "I thought we were in a position to win the game. Even though we lost to them in the regular season 50-21, we were playing much better. But it's tough to beat anyone when you give up as many points as we did on miscues and special teams play."
The closeness of the game and the strong offensive effort by both teams was evident in a single statistic: Each team only had one punt.
"This was simply an awesome game," Rams coach Mark Roller said. "If you look at the two teams and the way they were playing, you had to believe that whoever had the ball last was going to win. Offense, defense and special teams were really something, and you have to give credit to both teams for the way they played. Both teams put out an almost unbelievable effort, and that's what it's all about."
Special teams made the difference in the end.
Clarke tailback Davey Hardesty neutralized White and the Strasburg offense. The Eagles junior scored four touchdowns, rushed for 196 yards on 30 carries, had five yards receiving, and gained 150 yards on kickoff returns.
"Hardesty is a gamer, and he gives everything he's got in every game," Parker said.
Twice it looked as though Clarke would run away with the game, and twice the Rams answered with strong special teams play.
Late in the first half with the score tied 7-7, White rambled off left end for 30 yards only to fumble the ball on the Eagles' 30. Taking advantage of the Rams miscue, Clarke marched the ball 70 yards in eight plays to score the go-ahead touchdown with just 1:05 left in the half.
Hardesty, who carried the ball five times for 48 yards on the drive, got the touchdown on a 24-yard run to put his Eagles up 14-7.
With little time left on the clock, it looked like Clarke was going to take a seven-point lead and the momentum into the locker room at halftime.
The Strasburg kickoff return team, however, had other plans. Junior Todd Dean took the Eagles kickoff on his own 23-yard line and raced behind a wave of Strasburg blockers for a 77-yard touchdown that tied the game at 14-14.
The Strasburg kickoff team wasn't done, though. Strasburg's Troy Gordon took the opening kickoff of the second half and raced 91 yards for a touchdown, giving the Rams a 21-14 lead just 12 seconds into the second half.
Hardesty took the ensuing kickoff and raced 77 yards to the Ram 15. It took the Eagles just two plays to tie the game. Hardesty got the touchdown on a 17-yard run.
Undeterred, on its next drive Strasburg marched the ball 72 yards on six plays to retake the lead. White carried the ball five of the six plays, scoring on a 1-yard run.
With the Rams now up 28-21, it was Clarke's turn to capitalize on special teams play. Hardesty took the Strasburg kickoff, broke several tackles and ran 82 yards for the score.
The Rams, however, kept the lead 28-27 after Strasburg blocked Connor Shendow's extra-point attempt.
With neither side able to move the ball on their next possession, the Eagles were forced to punt from their own 33-yard line.
In the final critical special teams play, Clarke punter Alex Sefton watched helplessly as the ball was snapped over this head. Sefton managed to recover the ball but it set the Rams up on the Clarke 8-yard line.
"I can't say enough about our special teams," Parker said. "If you have a break down like that on special teams and give up 20 points you're going to lose to almost any team, and certainly to a team as good as Strasburg."
Two plays later, White scored what proved to be the game winning touchdown on a 5-yard run with 1:24 still left in the third quarter.
Both teams' defenses rallied in the final period, and the final 12 minutes were scoreless.
"What an exciting game," Roller said. "How many times do you have that many kickoff returns in one game, and have the rushing numbers that White and Hardesty had."