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Rams aim to keep upper hand on road

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Strasburg football coach Mark Roller, left, expects a typically tough game against rival Clarke County tonight in Berryville. Rich Cooley/Daily file

By Tommy Keeler Jr. - tkeeler@nvdaily.com

The Strasburg-Clarke County rivalry has been going on for many years. However, the Eagles had been dominant for about five years. Last year the Rams changed that around, and now the rivalry may be stronger than ever.

"Certainly it's been a great rivalry," Strasburg coach Mark Roller said. "You don't ever know what to expect as a fan when both teams are equal -- it could go either way. I guess you could say it's kind of like a Dallas and Redskins matchup. You take last year. You get two games. The first game we kind of got on them early. Then we go over there and play in the playoffs and it was back and forth. And that's just what it is. Two teams that are fairly close in proximity and it's just a battle."

The rivalry will be renewed again tonight in Berryville at 7:30 p.m. And last year's games are still fresh in the minds of Clarke County.

In the regular-season game, the Rams dominated from the start en route to a 50-21 victory.

The two teams met again in the playoffs at Clarke County, and the Rams came away with a 34-27 win.

"We're going to come back out and try to avenge those losses," Clarke County senior Davey Hardesty said. "It's definitely on our minds, and anybody who played last year. We just remember that game and remember the scoreboard at the end, try to take that as motivation and try to drive us forward into this game."

Many of the older Strasburg players remember what it's like to lose to the Eagles, and they know what to expect from them tonight.

"They kicked the crap out of us for the past couple years," Strasburg senior Tory Gordon said. "Last year we got a little bit of revenge and I'm sure they're not happy about that. And I'm sure they're going to try to come out and get us. We're going to try to not let that happen."

The Rams (4-0) are led by senior running back Rakwon White, who has 693 rushing yards and seven touchdowns this season.

White had 1,896 yards last season, and has picked up right where he left off last year.
Clarke County coach Chris Parker said he was able to watch the Rams beat Luray in person last week, and he said the biggest key for the Eagles' defense is to not let White get into open space.

"You have to contain him," Parker said. "Watching him live, I was really impressed. When he got to the open field, it was bad news for Luray."

Last week the Rams were without running back Todd Dean, due to an ankle injury. Roller said he was unsure whether Dean would be available against the Eagles.

Strasburg has also thrown for 238 yards this year. Gordon moved from wide receiver to quarterback and said he's enjoyed his new role with the team.

"I like quarterback. It's been real fun," Gordon said. "I get the ball in my hands more, try to make plays for the team. We have a really good line to block for us, which is really nice to have, and good receivers. That helps out a lot."

Strasburg's defense has also been solid this season. The Rams are only giving up 167.5 yards per game this season.

The Eagles (3-1) use the single wing, which usually causes problems for opponents. Clarke County is averaging 260.3 yards rushing per game. It's an offense not used by many teams, and Roller said that in itself presents a challenge.

"When you only see it once a year, it's tough to get the kids to understand and adapt to it," Roller said. "We're preparing for it like we always have. And we're going to do our best to stop it. It's a tough offense to stop. We're going to try to get some people lined up and try to stop them."

The Eagles lost some key players from last year, especially on offense. However, Hardesty said things have gone really well so far this season.

"It seems like a lot of guys have stepped in and filled those shoes," Hardesty said. "At the beginning of the season we were a little worried, but after a few games in it seems like we are where we were, and everybody's kind of filled in and done their role."

The rivalry may be big between the two schools, but there's a lot more than pride on the line when they meet tonight. It's the district opener for both teams.

The Bull Run District was so close last year that as many as five teams had a chance for a share of the title going into the last game of the season.

"Certainly if you were to lose this one, you kind of get put back a notch in your district schedule already," Roller said. "You start the district 0-1 and you still have Central and Monroe and Manassas Park and Madison to play. So you fall behind the 8-ball right away. You're trying to take care of your schedule and hope that somebody else gets knocked off.

"So it's a big game for both teams."

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