By Tommy Keeler Jr.
The Central-Strasburg rivalry has always been strong and intense. However, things will likely be more intense than ever when the teams face off tonight at 7 p.m. in the first-ever football playoff meeting between the two schools.
It was just two weeks ago that the Rams and Falcons played, with Central coming out on top 25-20.
"The intensity is crazy," Strasburg junior Jonathan Kloosterman said. "Everybody throughout the county, even if you aren't playing football, you just get pumped up for this game. You're just excited to watch it. The football players, they just get excited.
"My heart's pumping a little bit right now just thinking about it."
Both teams are coming off solid wins last week in the Group A, Division 2, Eastern Section first round.
Central beat Amelia 41-19, and Strasburg (10-1) rallied from a slow start to beat Nottoway 35-14.
The Falcons (9-2) were able to use a balanced attack in their win. Central had 294 yards rushing and 129 yards passing.
The balance Central has on offense is part of what makes the Falcons so tough to defend.
"They're so balanced, where they can beat with you the passing game," Strasburg coach Mark Roller said. "And obviously they showed the last couple games they can run the ball, too. You have to be balanced on defense as well."
The Falcons' running game has really come to life over the last few weeks, and that was no exception last week against Amelia.
"Our offensive line really got after people, opened up some holes and created some nice running lanes for Jordan [Umstead]," Central coach Mike Yew said.
In the regular season game, it was the Falcons' running game that really came up big. They rushed for 213 yards as a team, and Umstead had 203 of those by himself.
Another key in the regular-season meeting was Strasburg's lack of a passing attack. Strasburg quarterback Troy Gordon was 0-for-7 with two interceptions in the loss.
Gordon bounced back strong in the win over Nottoway. He threw for 143 yards and three touchdowns.
"I think it's good for Troy -- he got some completions under his belt in a playoff game," Roller said. "I think he understands the things that he did wrong two weeks ago. Certainly we've worked on that in the last two weeks. I think Troy is a guy that can forget and move on."
Another potential key in the game could be special teams. Both teams have had some success on special teams.
The Falcons have had some kick and punt returns for touchdowns this season, while the Rams have had success blocking extra points and field goals.
Last week in the win over Nottoway, Kloosterman blocked a field goal, which Gordon caught and returned to the Nottoway 8-yard line and helped the Rams get back in the game.
"Special teams -- it can make you or break you," said Kloosterman, who has five blocked kicks this season. "You can be pretty good on offense or defense, but if somebody else can just block a kick or something on special teams, it just hurts you. So, you just gotta make sure you're on all cylinders."
Both teams have put up impressive numbers all season. The Rams are averaging 36.6 points per game, while giving up 20.3 a game. Central is averaging 30.5 points per game, while allowing 19.1.
Strasburg has been led by the play of running back Rakwon White, who has an area-best 2,297 yards rushing this season.
Even though White had 238 yards rushing against the Falcons two weeks ago, Strasburg offensive lineman Trenton Davis said the line could have played better.
"We still didn't have really good blocks that game, but Rakwon can get it done," Davis said. "That's what's nice about Rakwon. It's great to have Rakwon because he can always make a little something out of nothing."
Yew said he was not happy that his team gave up several big runs to White, and that the Falcons need to do a better job in tonight's game if they expect to win.
Both teams lost in the second round of the playoffs last year, and one of them will be advancing at least a step further this year.
"Central's never been a football powerhouse," Yew said. "And we're not there yet, but we're certainly trying to continue to gain confidence and each year go a little further and get a little better."
With the season on the line, neither team needs any extra motivation, but the Rams haven't forgotten the loss two weeks ago.
"They got us the first time," Kloosterman said. "That was just the biggest downer -- we could've went undefeated. So this game is just going to bring out the best in us.
"We just want to win really bad."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or email@example.com