By Jeff Nations
Mark Smoot seemed to have every reason to strut off the field on Friday night.
The Strasburg High School senior quarterback had just efficiently led the Rams to a 34-0 victory over county rival Stonewall Jackson, completing 12 of 14 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns in the process.
Great game, but not good enough for Smoot who dwelled on those two misfires more than his three touchdown strikes. The left-handed quarterback didn't think he was particularly sharp, no matter what the numbers say.
"For the first game, I thought I played good," Smoot said. "But I want to play my best."
If there's more where that came from, then Strasburg is primed for a breakout year in the passing game. Smoot connected with three different receivers on first-half touchdowns to make sure the Rams would be celebrating their season opener.
The Rams marched 45 yards on the game's opening possession for a score when Mark Smoot find his brother, Ryan, on a slant route to the post for a 12-yard touchdown strike with 5:48 left in the first half.
"Yeah, that was a good throw," Mark Smoot grudgingly admitted afterward.
Stonewall Jackson answered with a clock-consuming nine-play drive that ultimately stalled at the Strasburg 48-yard line, and the Rams took the entirely opposite approach to the Generals' ground game on their ensuing possession.
Ryan Smoot spotted Trevin Howard on a corner route about 20 yards downfield, and his slightly underthrown pass proved to be the perfect touch as Howard came back a bit to snare the ball just before two Stonewall defenders converged and collided to leave the Rams' junior wideout with open field ahead for a 78-yard touchdown reception.
"I ran a corner and the quarterback put it on the right spot," Howard said. "I made a move and I was gone."
The Rams found the going somewhat tough running the ball against the Generals, who held Strasburg running back Colton Funk to just 48 rushing yards in the first half.
We'd stop them, then they'd throw a pass," Generals coach Dick Krol said. "We just did not tackle in the open field well at all. A couple times it look like we had something, then we just let them go."
It happened again on Strasburg's next possession, as Mark Smoot capped a seven-play drive by connecting with Funk on a middle screen that turned into a 34-yard touchdown pass to put the Rams up 20-0 with 3:50 left in the first half.
"This year we've got a little bit more speed than last year so we're running a little bit more quick passes to get it in their hands so they can get north and south," Mark Smoot said. "They're fast, they can make people miss, so we're just running more quick stuff so we can get it in their hands and they can just go."
The Generals moved the ball against the Rams all night, just not with enough consistency to sustain a long drive. Senior running back Derrick Smith had a game-high 102 rushing yards as Stonewall gained 153 yards on the ground.
"Derrick Smith does a good job, but we've got to get him to the hole quickly and he's got to get to the hole quickly," Krol said. "And if he does, we're all right. If he doesn't, it's going to close down. We're just not big enough to make it stand up."
The Generals stayed around well into the second half, holding the Rams on fourth-and-goal when Matthew Murphy broke up Mark Smoot's pass to Howard in the end zone.
The Rams got rolling again early in the fourth quarter, as Mark Smoot his Howard (four catches for 122 yards) for a 29-yard pass and Funk followed with a 20-yard run. Two plays later, Funk scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to put his team up 27-0 with 10:05 to play. Funk finished with 81 rushing yards, mostly hard-earned against Stonewall.
"We were able to run the ball a little bit," Rams coach Mark Roller said. "They did give us some trouble, and that was expected because they've got some pretty good size up front. We knew it might be difficult for us to run it coming into the year, just because we've lost some guys from last year. We kind of wanted to establish that run, and I think we gave it our best effort."
Mostly, though, the Rams carved up the Generals with their newly-styled quick-release passing attack.
"We're fortunate to have some speed there on the outside, so we're trying to utilize that and just see where we can go from there," Roller said. "We've never done that before and it's kind of new to us, and we've dropped some balls and we're still learning. But hopefully by the next couple games we'll be in mid-year form and be able to pull some of those things in and do something with it."
The Rams added one more big play in the fourth quarter, as reserve running back Cody Price broke loose for a 66-yard touchdown run to provide the game's final margin.
Contact staff writer Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org