By Brad Fauber
STRASBURG -- No matter how hard Strasburg fought in its football home opener against East Rockingham on Friday night, the deck seemed to constantly be stacked against the Rams.
Strasburg was a victim of a few bad breaks, shot itself in the foot with some poor execution and was over-matched physically against the visiting Eagles, and the Rams fell, 21-0, for their first loss of the young season.
"It was very physical. We had some bad breaks and we couldn't capitalize on some things," said Rams coach Mark Roller. "Our guys played hard and we just didn't catch any breaks. We had opportunities.
"It's a game to learn from and hopefully we grow from this."
It wasn't apparent at the time, but the opening sequence of plays to start the game for the Rams set the tone perfectly for how Strasburg's night was going to go.
On the game-opening kickoff, Rams senior Colt Cowgill fielded the ball on the return and broke a pair of tackles near the 20 yard-line, shook another defender at midfield and raced all the way down to the East Rockingham 32-yard line to give Strasburg's offense great field position and a chance to jump on top early.
An 11-yard run from Colton Funk on the second play from scrimmage put the Rams at the 18, but Strasburg's next two running plays were stuffed by the Eagles' stout defensive front for short gains. Rams quarterback Mark Smoot just missed connecting with Matt Clutter on a slant route in the end zone, and Smoot was sacked by East Rockingham's David Kisling on fourth down to hand the ball over to the Eagles and end the threat.
"That was gigantic. That red zone defense there was nice," Eagles coach Donnie Coleman said. "The kids made plays. We don't really have a superstar. We've got 11 guys who do their job when they're called to do it, and they did a nice job of that tonight."
The Eagles (1-0) responded by marching straight down the field, capping an 11-play, 74-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run by senior Bret Reel to take a 7-0 lead with 3:32 left in the first quarter.
East Rockingham utilized an offense that Coleman described as the "anti-spread," which mainly consisted of three running backs bunched closely around the quarterback in the a flexbone-type set, as well as some wing-T looks. The Eagles rushed for 215 yards and three scores, led by Shannon Cross' 153 yards, and East Rockingham quarterback Hunter Harman was 8-for-9 for 103 yards through the air.
"A lot of people in our district run that offense, so we felt that for us to physically match up with them we felt like we needed to do that," Coleman said.
East Rockingham's defense held Strasburg to a three-and-out on the Rams' next possession, and a 15-yard punt return by Shannon Cross set the Eagles up at midfield for its second drive of the game.
The Eagles again moved the ball efficiently on the ground, as Cross carried the ball five straight times to the Strasburg 1-yard line before quarterback Hunter Harman scored on a fourth-down sneak play with 11:15 left in the first half.
The Rams (1-1) moved the ball effectively on its next drive as an 18-yard scamper by Funk helped Strasburg reach the East Rockingham 26, but three straight incomplete passes by Smoot forced the Rams to punt.
Strasburg managed just 144 yards of offense, including 73 yards on the ground. Funk led the Rams with 79 yards rushing on 15 carries, while Smoot was just 7-for-21 for 71 yards and an interception.
"I kind of knew going into it that we just weren't going to be able to ram it down their throat," Roller said. "When you've got two guys who are close to 300 pounds there at the tackles, it's tough to move guys like that. We kind of figured that we were going to have to throw it a little bit, and that was in the game plan. We just didn't execute very well. We'll just go back to the drawing board and see what we can muster up."
Strasburg nearly got back into the game late in the third quarter when Funk intercepted a Harman pass at the Rams' 13-yard line and scampered all the way to the end zone, but the touchdown was called back on a flag for an illegal block.
East Rockingham put the game out of reach with a nine-play, 67-yard drive in the fourth quarter that ended with a one-yard touchdown run by Cross.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org