Central aims to keep momentum rolling

By Brad Fauber

WOODSTOCK — Central’s football team entered the season with plenty of question marks regarding its youth and inexperience, and head coach Mike Yew admits that the Falcons are still experiencing some of the expected growing pains.

But growing pains aside, the Falcons are above .500 at the midway point of the season after two straight wins against Bull Run District competition. Central has a chance to run that streak to three with a road contest at William Monroe tonight at 7:30 p.m.

“The main thing about this game is that we really have to build off the momentum that we already have going,” Falcons senior quarterback Sam Barbour said after practice on Wednesday. “From being .500 and then winning that [game against Manassas Park last week], it’s definitely momentum, that’s the biggest thing right now.”

Central (3-2, 2-0 Bull Run) is coming off a 20-13 Homecoming victory over Manassas Park last Friday, a game in which the Falcons’ defense came up with a stop inside their own 10-yard line in the waning seconds as the Cougars marched down the field for the potential game-tying drive.

Falcons senior wide receiver/defensive back Connor Hammack said the win was a big confidence boost for a team that is continuing to build chemistry on the field.

“We’re feeling good but we know we still have over half the season left. We’re nowhere close to over,” said Hammack, who had one of Central’s four interceptions last Friday. “We’re happy with what we’ve done, but we know we need to improve on it.”

William Monroe (2-3, 1-1) suffered a tough loss at Strasburg last week in a game where it squandered a fourth-quarter lead and eventually fell, 31-26. The Green Dragons led 26-13 before Strasburg scored 18 unanswered points over the final 11 minutes.

Despite being shut out in the fourth quarter, William Monroe still managed 419 yards of total offense last week, including 301 yards rushing on 46 carries. Senior running back Cody Perkins led the Green Dragons with 30 carries for 201 yards and two touchdowns in the loss.

“They’re not afraid to pound it, that’s for sure,” Yew said. “That’s one of things, we know they’re pretty good up front on offense so that’s probably why they’re willing to do that. When you can establish the run you can make a lot of things happen after that.”

Although the Green Dragons — who have a new head coach in Jon Rocha this season — leaned heavily on the run game against Strasburg, Hammack said William Monroe actually boasts one of the more balanced offenses the Falcons will face this year.

William Monroe is averaging 21.2 points per game this season, while Central’s defense is allowing 19.2 points per contest.

Sophomore Malique Shackleford started at quarterback for William Monroe last Friday, although the Green Dragons have also used senior Dustin Knight at the position this season. Yew said Knight — who did not play against Strasburg — suffered an injury in William Monroe’s win against Warren County two weeks ago and he’s unsure which player will start against Central tonight.

The 6-foot-2, 208-pound Shackleford completed 7 of 15 passes for 118 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions last week. He also ran five times for 32 yards.

“The kid that played against Strasburg, I thought, really did a good job running the ball,” Yew said. “He throws the ball decent, but I thought he really did a good job of handling the run when he needed to and taking care of things like that.”

Central’s offense has continued to improve as the season has progressed, but Yew said the Falcons are still experiencing some issues with communication, particularly along the offensive line.

The Falcons were kept out of the end zone in the second half last week despite putting together two solid drives in the third quarter that ended in short field goals by sophomore Clifton Croom.

Central has relied heavily on the running game so far this season, as the Falcons are averaging 200.4 yards rushing per game. Senior Hank Hoover has done most of the heavy lifting in Central’s rushing attack, carrying the ball 110 times for 497 yards and four touchdowns. Barbour has chipped in 286 yards rushing and a touchdown on 39 carries.

Barbour, who has also completed 37 of 67 passes for 672 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions, said the Falcons would ideally like to be more balanced offensively.

“Personally, I’d like to get our passing game clicking a little better — better reads, better routes,” Barbour said. “Our running game all season has carried us, with some nice passing plays on the side. But we’d like to have a more balanced offense.”

Central’s passing game has produced big plays when Barbour does connect with his wide receivers. Barbour is averaging 18 yards per completion, and top receiving targets Tristan Rau (14 receptions, 294 yards, 1 TD) and Hammack (8 receptions, 119 yards, 2 TDs) are averaging 21 and 15 yards per catch, respectively.

William Monroe’s defense is allowing 22.2 points per game this season, and Yew said he expects the Green Dragons to operate primarily out of a 4-3 base.

“We haven’t seen them waver from it very much,” Yew said. “Once in a while they’ll walk up and bring an extra backer and when it’s certainly anywhere close to a passing situation they sit in the 4-3 and play cover 2 out of it. I have no reason to believe anything different because Strasburg got into several formations that we run, so that gave us an opportunity to really see what we think they’ll do.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com