Strasburg evades Warren County

By Jim Laise –

STRASBURG— Only a game-winning goal-line stand could one-up senior Noah St. Clair’s heroics Friday night as Strasburg edged Warren County 36-28 in a game with Bull Run Conference and post-season playoff ramifications.

“What matters is that it was a team effort all the way. We played like a team, and we won like a team,” Strasburg coach Mark Roller said.

The two teams combined for 64 points, 567 yards, nine touchdowns and two kickoff returns for touchdowns. Those latter two were contributed by the 5-11, 155-pound wide receiver, who just started playing football in this his final season, after injuring a wrist as an eighth-grader.

“I’m glad I did,” St. Clair said. “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.”

Neither would have the Strasburg throng assembled here, who watched as their Rams (6-3 overall, 5-1 Bull Run) put themselves in a position to perhaps host a first-round game in the Region 2A East and even vie for a league championship.

Clarke County (9-0, 8-0) currently leads the Bull Run standings with Strasburg snug in second place. The Rams were tied with William Monroe entering Friday’s contest, but own the tiebreaker by virtue of their victory over that school earlier in the season.

More importantly, with their fifth consecutive victory, they hope to improve on their No. 9 VHSL rating in Region 2A East. The top eight teams in the power standings get the first round games on their home field.

“Playoffs, we haven’t really talked about it,” Roller said. Then, with his lips curling into a tell-tale smile, he added, “I’m sure our kids have talked about it.”

Certainly St. Clair will have the whole town buzzing this week.

The Strasburg baseball and basketball player had probably his statistically most pleasing night at Ram Stadium when his team needed him most.

He returned kickoffs of 80 and 75 yards — the latter being the game-winner — for scores. He also caught four Mark Smoot (14 completions, 22 attempts, 1 interception, 3 TDs and 157 yards) passes for 66 yards and a touchdown.

He also intercepted a Warren County Robert Rutherford (7-11-2, 78 yards) pass and with the help of his quarterback contributed a pair of two-point conversions. The latter were important because Strasburg kicker Justin Carr was injured.

“He’s reaping some benefits right now for coming out this season,” said Roller. “He came out this year and made plays. He plays baseball, basketball and now football. Some of his teammates asked him to play football. Peer pressure is a great thing.”

While Roller was right — this was a team win — St. Clair, Mark Smoot and brother Ryan Smoot — all made plays on Senior Night — leading up to the dramatic finish.

With a fourth-down-and-inches, Strasburg’s interior stopped Robert Rutherford on his goal-line rush, turning the ball over to Strasburg and letting the partisans count the clock down.

Mark Smoot contributed all but 40 yards with his left hand, while brother Ryan Smoot caught 6 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown. Ryan Smoot also intercepted a pass and carried it in for a 27-yard touchdown return.

Each team traded touchdowns to open the game on fine drives on their early possessions.

Robert Rutherford got the Wildcats (3-6, 3-3) on the board first with a one-yard touchdown blast, followed by the kick from Stuart Ashley. That came with 5:44 showing in the first quarter.

Strasburg answered with a 16-yard pass from Mark Smoot to St. Clair. A two-point conversion was stopped. The Rams trailed the Wildcats 7-6 by the end of the first quarter.

St. Clair set up the second Strasburg touchdown — this one coming in the second quarter — with an interception of a Robert Rutherford pass. He got it just into Wildcat territory. From there Mark Smoot connected with St. Clair for 13 yards.

The pay-off was a 36-yard TD pass from one Smoot to the other. The score came with 8:15 showing in the half. Again, Warren stopped the two-point conversion, but Strasburg had the lead 12-7.

Warren County was not to be denied. Relying on a ground game that totaled 292 yards, the Wildcats cruised to a touchdown with 4:31 remaining in the half.

Joseph Rutherford (18 carries, 105 yards, 1 touchdown) bolted for 11 yards, Robert Rutherford connected with C.J. Sharp for a 12-yard pick up, Robert Rutherford got an 11-yard rush, followed by Robert Rutherford’s 16-yard pass to the 22.

On the next play, William Spencer sprinted in for the 22-yard score. Ashley’s kick failed, so the score was 13-12 Warren County.

St. Clair, who returned three kickoffs for 188 yards, brought the subsequent boot to the Warren County 47-yard line, but penalties stifled the Rams.

Not to be outdone, he opened the second half, racing 80 yards with the third-period opening kickoff for the score. He started out left, raced down the sideline, then cut across the field to end the romp with 11:41 showing. This time Mark Smoot hit brother Ryan for the two-point conversion. Strasburg was back on top 20-13.

Warren County decided to go for it on its next possession. On fourth-and-long Trevin Howard stepped in front of a Robert Rutherford pass for the interception.

Mark Smoot followed with a 19-yard pass to St. Clair to move to their own 38. Key plays like a 10-yard run by Cody Price, a nine-yard pass to Ryan Smoot, and a 19-yard throw to Adam Miller carried it to the Warren 19.

Then it was time for Warren County to get a break. Tristan Ward intercepted a Mark Smoot pass in the Wildcat end zone.

It did not matter. As the Wildcats were trying to climb out of a hole, Robert Rutherford threaded a pass into the hands of Ryan Smoot, who carried the interception back for a score and a 28-13 Strasburg lead with 10:42 left in the game.

Again, Warren would not back down. Joseph Rutherford blasted through an opening on the line and ran unfettered 43 yards for a touchdown. Ashley’s kick was good for a 28-20 Strasburg lead with 9:18 to go.

The Wildcats tied it up on their next series. They gained a conversion on fourth down due to a Ram penalty, then a play-action pass carried 15 yards to the Strasburg 33.

Randall Harris (21 carries, 94 yards, 1 touchdown) blasted 14 yards to the 13. He then rammed over a Warren County touchdown from eight yards out. A play-action pass to Richard Yatsko was good for the deuce and tie at 28.

Again, St. Clair answered the bell. This time he ripped right up the guts of the Warren County kickoff coverage and danced 75 yards and the game-winning touchdown.

Neither team was done. Warren drove it inches within the Strasburg goal line, but the Ram interior halted what would have been a touchdown, at most; or a first down, at the least.

The loss was Warren’s first in four games. Ranked 15th in Region 3A East, the Wildcats hope to pull off a win in their regular-season finale to become playoff bound

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