By Tommy Keeler Jr.
STRASBURG -- Daniel Molina missed both of the Strasburg-Central games last season due to being out with an injury. The Central senior running back made the most of playing in the Shenandoah County rivalry game on Friday night.
Molina had four touchdowns to lead the Falcons to a 35-21 win over Strasburg in Bull Run District action.
"Considering I didn't play both games last year, it's a great feeling because it's my senior year," Molina said. "I had to give it all I got -- my last [regular season] game."
Molina carried the ball 32 times for 165 yards.
The Rams took the early momentum in the game. On the Rams' second possession they went 65 yards on nine plays. Strasburg quarterback Mark Smoot connected with Matt Clutter on a 12-yard touchdown pass with 4:11 left in the first quarter to give the Rams a 7-0 lead.
Central bounced back on its next possession. The Falcons went 59 yards on 13 plays, including eight carries by Molina.
Molina capped the drive off with a 2-yard run to tie the game at 7-7 with 10:34 left in the first half.
The Falcons struck again late in the first half with a 60-yard drive on 10 plays. Central mixed up the passing and running game on the drive, and Molina finished it off with a 1-yard run with 44 seconds left in the first half.
Strasburg came back strong to start the second half. The Rams recovered an onside kick, and on the next play tied the game. Strasburg's Colt Cowgill connected with a wide open Ryan Smoot on a wide receiver pass for a 49-yard touchdown with 11:48 left in the third quarter.
Central responded on the ensuing drive. The Falcons ran the ball on eight straight plays to set up a third-and-goal from the Strasburg 8. Central quarterback Hayden Bauserman threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Zach Herbaugh to give Central a 21-14 lead with 7:10 left in the third quarter.
"Herbaugh is a big lanky receiver," Bauserman said. "He's not the fastest guy, but down in the red zone it's pretty tough to guard him. I threw the ball up, and he went up and made a play on it."
Central junior Tommy Caison returned a punt to the Strasburg 15 to set up Central's next score. Two plays later, Molina took it in from the 12 to give Central a 28-14 lead with 4:00 minutes left in the third quarter.
Strasburg came back with a quick score. The Rams went 80 yards on six plays. Mark Smoot threw a 66-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Smoot to cut the lead to 28-21 with 24 seconds left in the third quarter.
"Our guys played hard tonight," Strasburg coach Mark Roller said. "We gave them a game. If we take a couple plays away. That's just been our season. It's a play here or there. But our guys played tremendously well. And I'm proud of them."
The Falcons (8-2) stretched the lead to 35-21 on another 12-yard run by Molina with 8:18 left in the game.
Central ran for 221 yards and passed for 154 yards. Bauserman threw passes to seven different receivers, including three for 38 yards to senior Sam Cornman.
"Sam Cornman hasn't really had all that many receptions this year, but I told him before the game I was going to throw him the ball," Bauserman said. "He didn't believe me, but I came out and threw him the ball. He's a good receiver. He gets lost in the mix sometimes. When we start playing really good teams underneath routes are going to have to be there. He's definitely a good underneath-route runner."
The loss ends Strasburg's season at 3-7, but Roller said he was proud of the effort his team gave this season.
"It kind of gives the underclassmen something to look forward to," Roller said. "You never like to lose to your rival, but certainly it's an opportunity for our young guys to grow and get better."
With the win the Falcons will most likely be the No. 3 seed in 3A East when the playoffs start next week. The official pairing should be announced sometime this weekend. Central advanced to the Division 2 state quarterfinals last year, but have moved up a clas this season.
"It's definitely a step up from where we've been, but I have faith in our team," Bauserman said. "We're a pretty big team, a pretty good team, solid core group of guys. It will be tough, the playoffs always are, but if we can just play like we have been this season, we'll be fine."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org