Wounded Rams hope to rebound

By Brad Fauber

STRASBURG — The Bull Run District schedule hasn’t been kind to Strasburg over the last couple of weeks.

Two weeks ago, the Rams lost a close, physical battle with rival Clarke County at home, and last Friday Strasburg saw a two-touchdown lead evaporate in a devastating 42-34 road loss to William Monroe.

To make matters worse, the Rams lost senior tight end/linebacker Jonathan Kloosterman for the rest of the season after he suffered a broken fibula on the eighth play of last week’s loss to the Green Dragons.

A wounded Strasburg team suddenly finds itself scrambling to fill some gaping voids as it prepares for tonight’s 7:30 p.m. Homecoming contest against visiting George Mason, as the Rams look to stay afloat in the playoff hunt.

“We’ve got to get back on track for sure, coming off those two losses,” Rams junior quarterback Mark Smoot said after practice on Tuesday. “We feel like the one last week, we had it and we just let it go, so we’re trying to get back on track this week with new players in there.”

The Rams (2-3, 0-2 Bull Run) have a tall task ahead of them in terms of replacing Kloosterman, who served as a reliable pass target and blocker on offense as well as a powerful presence on defense at middle linebacker.

Kloosterman — last season’s Bull Run District Defensive Player of the Year — was also a team captain whose on-field leadership will be sorely missed, but Rams head coach Mark Roller said the senior will now provide a positive presence for Strasburg on the sideline for the remainder of the season.

“He’s just going to have a different role than he had before,” Roller said. “Those guys look up to him and his leadership is just going to be provided from a different angle.”

Junior Ryan Smoot shifted from the offensive line to tight end for the Rams last week after Kloosterman left the game, and he finished the game with seven catches for 111 yards and a touchdown.

Roller said Ryan Smoot will also move from defensive end to linebacker this week to fill Kloosterman’s spot on defense.

“We can survive probably better offensively better than we could defensively because he was just all over the field. You take a guy like that, he’s tough to replace because he has so much football instinct,” Roller said. “That’s something that you can’t coach … either you do have that or you don’t have that. That’s true with any sport. I think the defensive part is going to be the big thing for us.”

Strasburg’s banged up defense, which will also likely be without junior linebacker Zach McDonald (bruised shin), will need to find some way to slow down George Mason’s single-wing offense tonight if the Rams hope to end its two-game losing streak.

The Mustangs (3-2, 1-1) enter tonight averaging 31.2 points per game and are coming off a 33-20 win over Madison County last Friday.

Roller said George Mason’s offense is similar to that of Clarke County, although he said that the Mustangs’ version of the single-wing is “not quite as efficient and not as much misdirection that we’ve seen so far.”

The biggest key will be Strasburg’s ability to slow down George Mason running back D’Montae Noble. The 5-foot-7, 165-pound sophomore rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s win, which came a week after Noble ran for 232 yards and a score in a loss to Central.

“Their running back is pretty good, so hopefully the defense stays solid and we can shut him down,” Rams senior defensive lineman Trenton Davis said. “He’s really good. He’s just really shifty and fast.”

On offense, the Rams will likely look to get back to their smash-mouth style of football against George Mason’s odd-man front after being forced to throw the ball 38 times in last week’s loss, although the potential loss of McDonald — who also serves as the Rams’ starting fullback — could make that a tougher challenge this week.

Roller said the Rams’ offense has struggled to realize that it lacks the explosive playmakers that made Strasburg’s offense so lethal a year ago, and the Rams need to turn that mentality around quickly if they hope to return to the playoffs this season.

“Our kids are slowly starting to realize that, and something I told them there last week was that they need to come out with their own identity,” Roller said. “Last year’s team had their identity, and now they need to make the statement of who they are.”

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