Rams looking to recover against soaring Eagles

By Brad Fauber

STRASBURG — Strasburg’s football team hasn’t gone completely back to the drawing board, but the Rams did revisit some of the basics ahead of tonight’s road game against Clarke County.

The Rams are reeling after two straight lopsided losses to non-district foes, and Strasburg is eager for a turnaround when it kicks off its Bull Run District slate with tonight’s 7:30 p.m. contest against the Eagles.

“I think the focus this week is just for us to be able to put some things together,” Rams head coach Mark Roller said Wednesday. “Work on tackling a little bit. Work on protection, blocking. We’ve kind of had to go back to the whole thing of restarting just because we’ve done so poorly over the last couple days.

“We’ve kind of just focused on getting back to our fundamentals and trying to regroup, get ready for this weekend.”

Strasburg (1-2) has surrendered at least 40 points in its last two games, and the Rams are coming off a 40-20 loss to James Wood in a game that Strasburg had two weeks to prepare for after coming off a bye in Week 3 of the high school season.

The Rams gave up 499 yards to James Wood last Friday, two weeks after allowing 358 yards and 42 points in a loss to East Rockingham on Sept. 5.

“We’re playing dumb,” Rams senior linebacker/running back Colton Funk said of Strasburg’s defense. “We go for fakes. We’re bad at that. We’ve got to play smart. We’ve got to use our offensive reads, like the pulling guards and stuff like that.

“It’s disappointing,” he added, “but we’ve got to get better. We’ve always got to get better.”

The challenge won’t get any easier for Strasburg’s defense this week, as Clarke County (3-0) enters tonight’s game averaging 46 points per contest.

The Eagles, who were Group 2A state quarterfinalists last season, are coming off a 42-7 win over Brentsville last Friday, a game in which sophomore running back Hunter Rogers (440 rushing yards, 6 TDs this season) racked up more than 200 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

Rogers, who had scoring runs of 25 and 28 yards, was one of four different players to score a rushing touchdown for Clarke County in the victory.

“They’re so big up front,” Roller said of Clarke County’s offense. “Those guys that are up front, they put a lot of people at the point of attack. For us, we have to hope that we can contain them and not give up the big play, because any one of those backs can go the distance from wherever. As soon as they get a little bit of a hole they can turn what could be a small gain into a 60-, 70-yard run. We just have to make sure that we have a lot of people to the football and make sure that we’re tackling because that’s been a big issue for us right now. We’re getting people there, but we’re not doing a very good job of tackling.”

Senior Sean McDonald is quarterbacking Clarke County’s single-wing offense for the third straight season and poses a difficult dual-threat for the Rams’ defense. McDonald, who has six total touchdowns this season, is second on the team in rushing yards (309) and has passed for 198 yards.

“When you have, in that type of offense, the element of surprise when they pound you, pound you, pound you and then they slip in a pass with a guy that can actually throw it, it’s tough to have to be able to go against both of them,” Roller said of McDonald. “Our guys are just going to have to do a good job of — especially the secondary guys — staying back and waiting for the ball to cross the line of scrimmage before we come up and try to help out the defensive front.”

As effective as Clarke County’s offense has been this season, the Eagles’ defense has been equally so. The Eagles are allowing just 7.3 points and 140 yards per game.

Roller said the Eagles possess more team speed than Strasburg, and he added that the Rams need to make sure they are picking up their blocks whether they’re running or passing the ball.

Strasburg’s offense has been inconsistent the last two games and struggled to get going in last week’s loss, as the Rams were shut out in the first half before putting together three scoring drives over the final two quarters. The Rams — who had three drives stall in James Wood territory in the first half last Friday — mustered just 76 yards rushing on 23 carries and finished with 308 total yards of offense.

Clarke County head coach Chris Parker said he expects to see plenty of passing from the Rams, who are averaging 310.7 yards of offense per game.

“We’re moving the ball. We’re having a hard time punching it in, but we are moving the ball,” said Rams senior quarterback Mark Smoot, who has completed 37 of 59 passes for 527 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions this season. “I think our passing game is alright. Our running game is kind of struggling. … Our line, they’re coming along slowly. They’ll get the hang of it. Once we get our running going, our offense will really bump up and we’ll become more solid.”

The Rams nearly knocked off Clarke County last season in a 12-8 loss at home, and Strasburg will be hoping to complete the upset bid tonight on the road to kick off the Bull Run District schedule.

“We’re hoping to bounce back this week,” Smoot said. “Tough game to bounce back, definitely, [against] Clarke County. But we’re expecting to get a ‘W’ this week.”