Rams face key matchup against Colonels

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

It may be early in the season, but Strasburg’s game with James Wood tonight is still a big one for both teams.

Strasburg is looking to grab some momentum heading into Bull Run District play, which starts next week. The Colonels are coming off an impressive 36-0 win over Warren County and want to keep the momentum going.

“Every game is big, you only play 10 of them, so picking up a win would be huge,” Strasburg senior Ryan Smoot said. “Obviously, playing at home you want to protect your home field. It’s big for us. …We want to go out and get a win.”

Strasburg had a bye last week, and head coach Mark Roller said it was a good week to get ready for the rest of the season.

The Rams lost to East Rockingham, 42-12, two weeks ago but had some positives from that game. Strasburg running back Colton Funk ran for 115 yards in the loss.

“He’s a sneaky back that just keeps getting those extra yards after the contact,” Roller said of Funk. “I think that’s the thing that most teams don’t understand about him. He’s small in stature, and they look at him and say we’ll take him down, but he’s so powerful in his legs that he keeps them turning. I think that’s the asset that he brings — that he just goes hard and keeps on fighting for those couple extra yards.”

Funk has rushed for 197 yards on 30 carries this season. Funk said he’s hoping the running game can take the momentum from the East Rockingham contest and carry it over into the game against James Wood.

“[East Rockingham] was a loss, but it was still a good rushing game,” Funk said. “Yeah, we had a tough time blocking those big guys, but we still got 100 yards. We still got the ground game established. We just didn’t get the passing game established. Hopefully, we’ll get that 150-yard mark this week and do better than last week.”

The Rams had a strong passing game last season, and Strasburg quarterback Mark Smoot has thrown for 295 yards in his first two games this season.

James Wood is coming off its best defensive game of the season, and the Colonels are hoping to keep that momentum going against a solid Strasburg offense.

“We played defense extremely well,” James Wood senior Tyler Bishop said of last week’s shutout. “We didn’t give up a whole lot of yards passing or running. We caused a lot of turnovers. I think that’s the one thing we really needed was a win to get us going and get us on the right track.”

James Wood won only one game last season, and now is trying to top that with a second win early in this season.

Colonels head coach Mark McHale said the win gave his players a real confidence boost, but now they want more.

“They’re really excited for winning and they’re wanting to concentrate on putting two games together,” McHale said. “They want this back-to-back to prove that they’re a consistent team. The formula for that is going to be no turnovers, get turnovers, get some three-and-outs and get that field position. No bubble busters, giving up a deep pass or a kickoff return. Just play like we did last week.”

James Wood was led last week on offense by senior quarterback Brady Hepner, who threw for 169 yards on 7 of 9 passing against Warren County. The Colonels also ran for 131 yards on the ground.

The Rams replaced their entire secondary from last year, and Roller said that they’ve struggled a little there this season.

“For the most part they’ve done a decent job,” Roller said of the secondary. “We didn’t do a good job against East Rock, but those two guys that were back there hadn’t seen action and it’s tough when you only have two back there in an offense like they run [wing-T] where you can’t find the ball. We didn’t do a very good job of reading our keys so they got beat a couple times deep, but didn’t give up big touchdowns.

“I think it’s going to be a challenge this week for us because of how well Brady Hepner throws the football. I’m sure they’re going to see that and try to throw it. We’re going to try to do everything we can to stop that.”

The two teams played last year for the first time, and will be playing each other for at least the next two years. McHale said he enjoys playing Strasburg.

“I think it’s great. That’s a good town over there, kind of like James Wood guys out there — in the country, if you would,” McHale said. “I think that’s a great rivalry because it’s close. A lot of their fans came over last year and a lot of ours will go over there. So that makes it good, a good, tough rivalry.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd