Warren County tops Central

By JIm Laise – sports@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL – Three weeks ago, Warren County’s football team was standing at 0-2 in the Bull Run District and 0-5 overall.

True, the Wildcats had played heavyweights Skyline, William Monroe and Clarke County — among others — but it appeared they were going nowhere fast.

Now, Warren County (3-5 overall, 3-2 Bull Run) finds itself square in the Group 3A East Region playoff picture after downing Central 24-6 Friday night. According to their coach, it has been a day-by-day existence.

“We’re just trying to get better every day, Warren County coach Steve Crist said. “That’s what we’ve stuck to. And that’s what we’re thinking as we move ahead.”

Asked about his team’s post-season possibilities, Crist smiled and repeated the mantra: “Trying to get better … day by day. I’m sure it’s something the young men are thinking about. But we can’t get ahead of ourselves. Right now, we’ve got Strasburg (Friday on the road, 7:30 p.m.).”

“The way I’ve figured, if we keep winning, it helps our chances,” said Warren County linebacker Zach Moon, after his team nearly shut out the Falcons, who scored on their last possession of the night — mostly against Wildcats reserves.

“They practice, too,” Crist said. “The last several weeks we’ve practiced really well. Part of it is some of our players are growing up. But, the other side of it is, our scout team has really helped us out.”

It was that kind of night. Taking advantage of a Central team (3-5, 2-3 Bull Run) that seemed out of sorts in the first half and then lost two offensive starters as the game wore on, the Wildcats dialed up one of their best defensive performances of the season for the 18-point victory.

“I can’t even remember when we had a shut out around here,” Moon said. “It’s been a while. I thought we played well tonight.”

Warren’s defense allowed Central 196 yards of total offense, but 70 of them came on the Falcons’ last drive, when Crist and his staff substituted liberally.

The Wildcats gave up just 57 yards to the Falcons in the first half, when the visitors were committing six infractions for 46 yards. Central finished the night being called for 11 flags for 71 yards.

“We’re not a big-play offense,” said Central coach Mike Yew. “And we don’t do well when we’re starting first-and-15, second-and-20-mainly because of penalties. They really hurt us, particularly in the first quarter.”

In a game replete with district and regional implications, Warren County won for the third straight time against Central, which beat Warren 47-20 a year ago.

“I think it’s a testament to our time. We’ve tried to get better each week,” Crist said.

Coming in, Central was tied for 17th in the VHSL power ratings in Region 3A East, while Warren was 20th. The top 16 teams make the playoffs and both the Falcons and the Wildcats may be on the cusp of that now.

The Falcons opened the game by recovering a fumble on Warren County’s opening kickoff return. From the Wildcats’ 33-yard line, they moved the ball to the 17. But three penalties on the drive had them back on the 48 when they had to punt. The kicker fumbled the snap and Warren was in business on its own 47.

Sticking to the ground, the Wildcats moved the ball to the Falcons’ 6 where place-kicker Stuart Ashby knocked home a 23-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 2:11 showing on the first-quarter clock.

Warren County quarterback Samuel Barbour fumbled the ball to the Wildcats on the Falcons’ 46, but the home team could do little with it.

On the play, Central lost an offensive lineman for the night. Subsequently, a wingback also went out of the game in the first half.

“They’re both knees,” Yew said. “We’ll know more about them later.”

Warren County had decided it needed to stop the pass first. In their first five games, the Falcons had been averaging 135 yards through the air. This night, Barbour, a senior, was good on 8-of-19 attempts for 68 yards and a touchdown.

“I think the key was getting a good pass rush, but they can run the ball well,” said Crist. “They’re a well-balanced offense.”

Central had been averaging 335.4 yards per game in its first five contests, including about 200 yards per game on the ground.

Warren County limited the Falcons to 128 rushing yards on 33 carries. Of that amount, about 50 came against the reserves in the final four minutes, as Central scored for the only time of the night.

“We thought they might try to throw more, but they kind of crossed us up and ran the ball more,” said Moon.

Warren County added to its lead in the second quarter, when quarterback Robert Rutherford (8-of-15 for 151 yards and 2 touchdowns) found favorite receiver Eric Baker (4 catches, 63 yards, 2 TDs) for a 9-yard scoring pass. Ashby’s kick made it 10-0 in favor of the Wildcats with 1:21 showing in the first half.

On its final three first-half possessions, Central was forced to punt, was stopped on fourth down and saw their last drive cease as time ran out in the ahlf.

After a scoreless third quarter, Warren County added to its lead in the fourth quarter.

Randall Harris (15 carries, 44 yards, 1 score) blasted over from the 2 with 11:34 to go and Ashby added the kick for a 17-0 lead. Then, the combination of Robert Rutherford-to-Baker connected for a 24-0 advantage with four minutes remaining.

Crist subbed out several defensive players and Central moved 10 plays for 70 yards to culminate the night’s score. The two-point conversion failed.