By Tommy Keeler Jr.
Central football coach Mike Yew has been a little worried this week that his 7-2 squad might look past a Strasburg squad that has a 3-6 record. That's why Yew has made an extra effort to remind his players that tonight's game at Strasburg is a big rivalry game, where anything can happen.
"We've been telling our kids all week it's so easy to look at their record and say this ought to be a game we should win. And we've been telling our kids all week that this is not going to be one of those games," Yew said. "This is Strasburg-Central. It's our last game of the year. A lot of things on the line for both teams -- pride, community, all that stuff. We've just been selling the kids on the fact that they need to go out and play a good football game Friday night against a good football team."
The Rams' record this season can be deceiving. Strasburg has been in almost every game until the end. They lost by only four points to Clarke County, the top team in the district, and had a chance to win in the final minute. They lost 6-0 to George Mason on a pick-six.
Two weeks ago the Rams lost by four points to Madison County, a game in which the Mountaineers recovered three onside squib kicks. Last week Strasburg lost 28-20 to Warren County, and had a drive stopped in the final minute.
Strasburg coach Mark Roller said his team has just been a play here or a play there away from a better season as far as the win-loss column goes.
"I think that some of it has to do with the inexperience that we have on our team right now," Roller said. "That's something they've started to understand is 'this is what it's going to take.' We just haven't been able to piece that together yet."
Strasburg has traditionally been a run-oriented team, but this season the Rams have become more of a passing team. A big part of the reason has been the play of junior quarterback Mark Smoot.
As the season has gone one, Smoot has gained confidence and the passing game has taken off. Smoot has thrown for more than 1,000 yards and has 14 touchdowns.
"The thing I see in Mark is the vocal leadership that he's taken on," Roller said. "He's a quiet kid anyway. Being able to throw the ball to the places he needs to throw it, and the kids have confidence in him. And I didn't think we had that early on. I think he was a little nervous the first couple games as well. He's kind of settled in now and is very comfortable with where he wants to go with the football. And the guys trust in him that he's going to make the right decisions, and so far he's done a good job of that."
While Strasburg struggled early in the season on offense, its defense was solid. Roller said the team has been especially stout against the run.
The Rams are allowing only 18.0 points per game this season, including holding a powerful Clarke County offense to only 12 points.
The Rams will need to have a good defensive game to have a chance to win against a very balanced Central team. The Falcons are averaging 45.3 points per game, and more than 400 yards of offense per game.
"Our entire season, we have been incredibly balanced," Yew said. "The bulk of the running game has fallen on Daniel's [Molina] shoulders, which is fine, he's our featured tailback. He's a starter, he's earned that. He's been a starter for two years now. As far as [quarterback] Hayden [Bauserman], he's been a three-year starter for us. He's done a really good job.
"And our receiving corps, and to name all of them is worthy, because it starts with Kolton [Poston] and Justin [Bauserman] and Tommy [Caison] and Zach [Herbaugh] and Travis [Cooper] and Sam [Cornman]. And we have six kids that can catch the football."
Hayden Bauserman has thrown for 1,931 yards with 22 touchdowns. Molina leads the area with 1,289 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.
The rivalry has always been strong, but has been even better the last two seasons. Central has won the last three meetings by a combined nine points, including a 25-22 overtime win last year in the playoffs.
"Our last three [games] have been wars," Yew said. "They really have been just unbelievable football games. Anyone in attendance certainly got their three money's worth in the last three games that we've played. In reality, I don't remember the last time the game has been a blowout."
Both teams have a lot on the line. Strasburg needs a win to have a chance at making the Class 2A playoffs. Central is locked into a first-round home game in the Class 3A playoffs, but could get even more with a win and some outside help. The Falcons are currently fifth in the 3A East region, but could move up as high as the No. 3 seed.
No matter what's at stake, the Shenandoah County rivalry game is always big, and both coaches expect another hard-fought battle.
Roller said his team will have to play mistake-free football.
"We can't afford to make the mistakes that we've made in the past against them, because they're such a quality team," Roller said. "We can't have breakdowns on our defense or on offense with our passing scheme. It's just one of those things, if you play mistake-free football then you have a chance to win, and that includes turnovers. You can't turn the football over against them."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org