By Tommy Keeler Jr.
The Strasburg-Central rivalry has always been huge, but when the two teams meet today in Woodstock there may be more on the line than ever before.
There's the Bull Run District title, the Shenandoah County championship, Strasburg's perfect 9-0 record and seeding for the upcoming playoffs. Of course, maybe just as important as any of those things -- the teams are playing for pride.
"I've been waiting for this game all year," Strasburg senior Rakwon White said. "I think we're very prepared for them -- mentally and physically.
"I can't wait until Friday at 7:30 -- see the crowd, see how big it is."
It will certainly be a packed crowd. That's normal for a Strasburg-Central game, but what hasn't been normal, until the last couple years, is having so much on the line.
Whoever wins the matchup will be crowned as the Shenandoah County champion, as both teams have already beat Stonewall Jackson.
On top of that the Bull Run District title is on the line for the second year in a row. Last year the Falcons won the district title after beating Strasburg in a 27-26 double overtime thriller. If the Rams had won there would have been a five-way tie for the title.
This year the roles are reversed. Strasburg can win the title outright with a win, while Central can force at least a two-way, it would be a three-way tie if Manassas Park wins its final game against George Mason.
"This right here determines district champions," White said. "We don't want to share the title with no other team."
The Falcons (7-2, 5-1) want to get a piece of the title so that they can have at least a share of the title for two consecutive years.
The game will also go a long way in determining seeding for the playoffs. Both teams are already in the playoffs, and both have clinched a home game for the first round.
A Strasburg win could move the Rams as high as the second seed, while a Central win could move the Falcons as high as the third seed.
"We want at least two, three home games in the playoffs, if it's possible," Strasburg's Troy Gordon said. "Play easier seeds, of course, it just makes life a lot easier."
Strasburg is also 9-0 and the Rams very much want to finish with an undefeated regular season. Of course, keeping the Rams from that undefeated season would be extra special for the Falcons.
"Beating Strasburg is always a bonus," Central senior Jordan Umstead said. "Winning any game is good, but being able to beat our rival like that is just that much sweeter. If we beat them and ruin their perfect record, it just makes everything that much better."
Both teams have explosive offenses and solid defenses.
Strasburg (9-0, 6-0) is led by White, who has 1,894 yards on 193 carries and 21 touchdowns. The Rams also have a solid passing game as Gordon has thrown for 673 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.
Last year White was able to run for 232 yards against the Falcons, but didn't have any long runs of over 50 yards.
"Last year our focus was not to give up the home run," Central coach Mike Yew said. "We don't want him to go 60-70 yards. Obviously he has the ability to do that any time he touches the ball."
The Falcons have many of the same players back on defense this year, and the team has the confidence that they can keep Strasburg from coming up with many big plays on them.
"I honestly believe if our defense, all 11 men on the field, do our job and do what we need to do, then we can stop them," Umstead said. "You can't tackle [White] high because he'll bounce off you, so we got to hit him low."
The Rams are averaging 404.7 yards per game. Central isn't doing too badly either -- averaging 339.4 per game.
The Falcons have a balanced attack led by a strong passing game. Central junior Hayden Bauserman has thrown for 1,735 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Three of Central's receivers are in the top six in the area this season, led by tight end Kolton Poston (31 receptions for 477 yards, five touchdowns). Juniors Travis Cooper and Zach Herbaugh have a combined 42 receptions for the Falcons.
Central will be without top running back Daniel Molina, who is out for the year with a torn meniscus. However, Umstead started last week at tailback against Madison County and had 139 yards rushing.
"Umstead filled in pretty good for them back there last week," Strasburg coach Mark Roller said. "Their offensive line is probably the biggest we've faced all year. This week it's going to be a real challenge for our kids."
The Falcons started off slowly last week against Madison County and trailed 28-20, but rallied with 35 points in the second half.
"I think that's the best the offense has looked, because we ran the ball good, the offensive line did good and the wide receivers really made plays," Bauserman said of Central's second half against Madison County. "I think if we do that [again] then we don't have much to worry about."
Strasburg's seniors have yet another reason to want to win this game badly -- they haven't beaten Central during their careers.
"Manassas [Park] and Central before the season were the only teams that our class had not beat," Gordon said. "And we beat Manassas [Park], so we got to beat Central too."
No matter who wins there's no question it's going to be another great game in a very strong rivalry.
"Just the atmosphere in the game is going to be unlike any that I've been a part of in high school football game," Umstead said. "It makes it 10 times more intense knowing that there's so much more at stake. It's always been a good rivalry game.
"With everything on the line, it's just going to make it that much better for us and the fans."
Contact assistant sports editor Tommy Keeler Jr. at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org