By Brad Fauber
Tonight marks a new game in a new season, but Central is well aware of its missed opportunities against Clarke County last season.
Due to fellow Bull Run District member Rappahannock County canceling its 2011 football season, the Falcons and the Eagles met twice during the regular season last year. Both times Clarke County came away with a hard-fought victory.
Clarke County's first win over the Falcons came on the road when the Eagles kept Central's offense out of the end zone in a 21-7 victory. Central's lone score came on a kickoff return, and the Falcons committed several turnovers that ended promising drives.
When the two teams met again in mid-October in Berryville, the Falcons and the Eagles battled to a 7-7 tie before Clarke County won the game on an 18-yard field goal by then-senior Connor Shendow as time expired.
The Falcons have put last season's losses to Clarke County behind them, but there is still plenty Central can take from last season's meetings.
"We're definitely looking at the second game, and even the first game, too, because we really felt like both games got away from us," said Falcons junior quarterback Hayden Bauserman. "We just have to finish games, and not let teams stay in games. That's what we've really been talking about all year."
Central (5-2, 2-1 Bull Run) is coming off a 62-21 thumping of William Monroe last week, a game in which junior running back Daniel Molina racked up 279 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Bauserman, who threw for nearly 200 yards and three scores last week, said the win over the Dragons was "really the first game this year where we put a team away and didn't let them back in."
Starting quickly on offense will be a priority against Clarke County (4-2, 1-1) tonight.
"We've got to start early. With Clarke, they run that offense that's hard to simulate in practice, so it always takes your [defense] a few plays or a drive to catch up to what they're doing," said Central coach Mike Yew. "We can't wait for them to get up 7-0 or 14-7 to start playing. We've got to play from the get-go."
Central will need more than just a solid offensive showing tonight if it hopes to come out on top against the Eagles.
The Falcons will have to find a way to slow down Clarke County's single-wing offensive attack, a style that includes a lot of motion and multiple backs that can carry the football.
Senior Davey Hardesty leads the Eagles' ground game with 636 yards and 13 touchdowns while averaging seven yards per carry. Hardesty also leads Clarke County in receiving, gathering 15 passes for 238 yards and three scores.
The key for Central defensively will be whether or not the Falcons can limit Hardesty's play-making ability.
"We know with the Hardesty kid and the quarterback [Sean McDonald] ... they're pretty balanced and pretty talented. They've got two kids who can take it the distance at any time," Yew said. "Their backfield motion can be confusing. We show our kids over and over what their motion looks like. It's a process. It takes longer to prepare for them than it does anybody else."
Clarke County coach Chris Parker is similarly concerned with the Falcons' offense. Central has demonstrated a fairly balanced approach this season, led by Bauserman's area-leading 1,350 yards and 12 touchdowns through the air.
Molina is second in the area in rushing with 805 yards on 130 carries and 10 touchdowns.
Parker said limiting Central's passing game has been a focus in practice this week, and the Eagles' secondary must be prepared for a Falcons receiving corps that includes Kolton Poston (26 catches, 379 yards), Travis Cooper (19 catches, 374 yards) and Zach Herbaugh (17 catches, 281 yards), all of whom stand over 6-foot-1.
"They have a lot of weapons, they have a lot of size. From what we've seen on film, they have guys who run, catch the ball, throw the ball. They're impressive," said Parker. "I'm really impressed with their quarterback. I think he throws a good ball and he does a good job. I think we're pretty quick, but we're going to have to be on our 'A' game against their passing game."
Central still controls its own destiny at this point in the season and can win its second straight Bull Run title if it wins out. But the Falcons will first have to take care of Clarke County in a Homecoming game that is sure to be as physical as any game the two teams have played in recent years.
"This week, being our Homecoming, we're going to be jacked up," Bauserman said. "But we know they're going to be jacked up, and they're a good football team, so it should be a good game."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org