Wildcats, Rams looking to bolster playoff bids

By Brad Fauber

Warren County and Strasburg will both be looking to avenge disappointing losses when the Wildcats host the Rams at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Warren County’s final home game of the season. More importantly, both teams will be looking to bolster their respective postseason positions.

The Wildcats, coming off a 47-20 loss to Central last week, currently sit seventh in the latest Class 3A East playoff ratings. A win tonight would strengthen Warren County’s hold on a home game in the first round of the playoffs.

Strasburg, on the other hand, almost certainly needs a win tonight if the Rams hope to crack the top 16 in the 2A East. The Rams are currently 17th — one spot out of the playoffs — in their region with two games remaining after being jumped by current 16-seed Madison County, which beat Strasburg 31-27 last Friday.

“We’re still not out of it. We still have a chance, but certainly it starts with this week,” Rams coach Mark Roller said Wednesday. “If we can win this week we have a chance of getting in. So that’s kind of what we’ve talked to them about, is if we can put together four quarters of football, then we still have a chance of getting into the playoffs.”

If Strasburg (3-5, 1-4 Bull Run) hopes to pick up its second win in the Bull Run District this season and have a shot at a return trip to the postseason, it will have to make it past a Warren County team that is hungry for a win after getting blown out by Central a week ago.

The Wildcats (5-3, 3-2) surrendered 553 yards — including 350 yards passing — in last Friday’s loss, as Warren County’s defense was the victim of big play after big play. The offense didn’t fare much better, as the Wildcats turned the ball over five times and couldn’t seem to find much rhythm.

Warren County wants nothing more than to put that performance in the past, and the fact that tonight marks the Wildcats’ Senior Night only adds to that motivation.

“Losing to Central that bad makes us want to get even better. It’s pushing us harder,” Wildcats senior wide receiver/cornerback Jontae Rollins said Tuesday. “The seniors are definitely pushing harder since it’s our last regular season home game. And getting that home game for the playoffs, it’s getting tough.”

The Wildcats will need improved play in all facets of the game this week, and head coach Tony Tallent said the key for Warren County will be to “maximize potential” on both sides of the ball.

On offense, that will likely mean getting the running game going. Warren County managed 156 yards rushing last week, but senior running back Demetrus Yates was held to just 42 yards on 10 carries (28 of those yards came on Yates’ first carry of the game).

Despite last week’s struggles, Yates is still second in the area in rushing with 1,037 yards and nine touchdowns this season, and the speedy back — along with Warren County’s size up front — presents a big challenge for Strasburg’s defense.

The Wildcats’ also feature several receiving threats in Rollins (16 catches, 466 yards, five touchdowns) and senior Casey Stewart (18 catches, 432 yards, five touchdowns).

“We’ve just got to get as many people around the ball as we can. With [Yates], he’s so elusive and has such a quick first step that we don’t have anybody that can catch him if he gets in the open field,” Roller said. “He can take it the distance at any point. If we can’t get people around him, it’s not going to be a good night for us.”

Strasburg’s offense features a steady ground game of its own — led by junior Colton Funk’s 661 yards and four touchdowns — but the Rams’ passing attack has become increasingly productive as junior quarterback Mark Smoot has become more comfortable in his first season under center.

Smoot is currently third in the area with 1,049 passing yards and 11 touchdowns.

The Rams have four players with at least 14 receptions this season, led by senior Colt Cowgill’s 17 catches for 220 yards and four touchdowns. Junior Ryan Smoot has also emerged as a reliable target since senior tight end Jonathan Kloosterman was lost for the season to a broken fibula on Oct. 4, catching 14 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns.

“They’re well coached and they really bounced back after losing the Kloosterman kid. They’re just as solid, if not more diverse now. They’re probably harder to cover,” Tallent said. “Sometimes when you take away the guy that everybody’s looking at, you’re really not sure who’s going to get the ball next. Sometimes that’s a real advantage.”

Roller said he isn’t concerned about the Rams looking ahead to their annual rivalry game with Central next week, and Ryan Smoot said Strasburg has done a good job all season of handling each game on a week-to-week basis. Smoot said he expects it to be no different tonight.

“We’ve just got to focus on [tonight]. We’ve got to quit looking ahead,” Ryan Smoot said. “We’ve got a big game in two weeks. Everybody knows that. But we’ve got to take care of business [tonight]. We can’t be looking ahead this late in the year, where we stand.”

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD