By Brad Fauber
STRASBURG -- The football rivalry between Strasburg and Clarke County goes all the way back to the 1950s, and close, physical football games have been a mainstay each and every time the two Bull Run District teams clash.
Friday's contest between the two schools was no different, and Clarke County survived a late comeback bid by the Rams to escape with a 12-8 victory on the road in a game littered with mistakes from both teams.
"They didn't do anything different than we thought they'd do. The bottom line is they were able to make some key plays in key situations and we weren't," Rams coach Mark Roller said. "We didn't execute very well. We had a lot of dropped balls, we had a lot of missed blocks."
Clarke County held a comfy 12-2 lead with less than four minutes to go in the game, but things got very interesting, very quickly.
Facing a third-and-8 from Strasburg's 15-yard line, Clarke County lost a fumble on a poor handoff, and the Rams' Colt Cowgill was able to recover the ball at the 17 and give Strasburg a little life with 3:16 remaining in the fourth quarter.
On the next play, Strasburg quarterback Mark Smoot found a wide-open Matt Clutter on a streak route down the sideline that netted 62 yards and moved the ball all the way to the Eagles' 21-yard line.
Junior Colton Funk (26 carries, 147 yards) ripped off a 14-yard run to put Strasburg at the 7, and Cowgill later hauled in a juggling catch in the back of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown pass from Smoot that cut Clarke County's lead to 12-8 with 1:29 remaining.
"I knew we were going to have the corner route open and Mark just made a good throw, and I just tipped it to myself," said Cowgill, who had four catches for 29 yards and two fumble recoveries.
Clarke County (4-0, 1-0 Bull Run) recovered the ensuing onside kick attempt from Strasburg, but the Eagles couldn't run out the clock. Facing a fourth-and-29 following three kneel downs and a delay of game penalty, the Eagles lined up in punt formation in an attempt to drain the remaining seconds off the clock.
However, punter Kasey Lake was unable to completely milk the clock as he scrambled around in the backfield, and Lake dropped to the ground at the Clarke County 15-yard line with three seconds remaining, giving Strasburg one last shot at the end zone.
Unfortunately for the Rams (2-2, 0-1), Smoot's pass to the end zone was knocked down as time expired.
"I'll take responsibility on that, not Kasey," Eagles coach Chris Parker said. "We wanted him to get the ball and run around, and if he had to, run straight back out of the end zone ... at least get the safety and eat the time. He didn't hear us clearly and we haven't practiced it. We were fortunate to come out with a win."
The Eagles had multiple opportunities in the second half to put the game out of reach, but couldn't capitalize on a pair of red zone attempts in the fourth quarter. Strasburg forced fumbles on back-to-back Clarke County possessions inside the Rams' 20 that kept Strasburg in the game.
"Those were big momentum swings. We should've capitalized on them," Cowgill said. "We had a couple offensive mistakes, which happens. They were big plays, we just couldn't turn it around."
Strasburg outgained the Eagles 228 to 157, but the Rams struggled with inconsistency, as dropped passes, poor blocking and penalties derailed some of Strasburg's drives.
The Rams' best drive of the night came on their first possession of the game, as Strasburg marched down the field after holding Clarke County to a three and out.
Funk carried the ball five straight times to move Strasburg from its own 44 to the Eagles' 5-yard line, but a 5-yard touchdown run by Funk was called back on a holding call. Another holding penalty on the next play moved the Rams back even further, and the drive eventually stalled at the 5.
"It took a little bit of wind out of us, but I don't think it took it all out. Our guys played hard the whole game," Roller said.
Strasburg got on the board first as Ryan Smoot blocked a Clarke County punt out of the back of the end zone for a safety following the Eagles' defensive stand.
Clarke County, which didn't have a first down in the first half, finally found some offense after forcing a Ram turnover at the Strasburg 38 in the second quarter.
Eagles quarterback Sean McDonald's 31-yard touchdown run put Clarke County up 6-2 with 6:29 remaining in the second quarter, and Lake scored on a 4-yard run to open the fourth quarter that put Clarke County up 12-2.
Strasburg's defense held the Eagles to just 120 yards rushing in the game.
"They played very physical. Kudos to them for how hard they played," said McDonald, who finished with 70 yards on 10 carries. "They are not an easy team to push around, and when they hit you, you feel it."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org