Generals, Rams aiming to change perceptions in football opener

The 2016 high school football season is here, and both Strasburg and Stonewall Jackson feel like they have something to prove when the two Shenandoah County rivals meet in tonight’s 7:30 p.m. contest in Strasburg.

Stonewall, entering year two under head coach Jay Goode, is hungry for a reversal of fortune after winning just five games over the last four seasons, and is eager to make good on the optimism running rampant through the Generals during preseason camp.

Strasburg, meanwhile, is trying to erase a much more recent memory – a poor showing in its first and only scrimmage a week ago against Moorefield (West Virginia), when the Rams “got punched in the face,” according to head coach Mark Roller, and never recovered in what Roller deemed a shift away from the team’s traditionally physical brand of football.

“I think we’re looking to change some opinions of what people saw (last) Friday night,” Roller said earlier this week. “I think it’s just a learning experience. Got a lot of guys who were out there for the first time, some young guys that are coming up from JV, and we have some guys that have some experience. All in all I think they’re wanting to change what happened last weekend, and so that’s what they’re looking forward to.”

Strasburg has owned its head-to-head meetings with Stonewall Jackson in recent history in a matchup that has marked the start of the season for both schools over the last six years. The Rams have won the last six regular-season meetings against the Generals, including a 29-6 victory in Quicksburg last fall. Strasburg’s margin of victory against Stonewall over their last four meetings is 25.5 points.

Stonewall Jackson senior lineman/linebacker Chance Stroop, a three-year starter, said the Generals are determined to push things in a different direction this season.

“We know we’ve got a really good chance,” Stroop said. “All I hear this week is ‘We’ve got Strasburg this week! County rival, let’s be county champions this year!’ I just like to hear that because everybody’s ready to go in there already with a winning mindset and that’s a lot different than a few years in the past with our players, (when) they were always down before the games.”

Roller said he expects Stonewall to look like an improved team now that the Generals have had a full year to become accustomed to Goode and the new coaching staff. Strasburg junior running back/linebacker Austin Miller said the Rams will need to “come out and play as hard as we possibly can” in what is traditionally a grind-it-out matchup.

“Coach always tells us that they might be smaller than other people but they’ll still come out and grind and grind until the end of the game,” said Miller, who will make his debut at running back after spending last season at tight end. “But I think we have the same plan to do that and keep the streak alive.”

Stonewall will certainly appear a changed team in one aspect, as Goode has phased out his traditional Wing-T offense in favor of a multiple-I look that will be led by junior quarterback Brendan Hoover, who took over the starting role in the latter half of 2015.

Roller noted the Generals’ size up front on both sides of the ball (Stonewall returns four starting offensive linemen) and added that they have “tough” kids in the backfield that also double as linebackers on defense.

Goode, who expects Stonewall to pass much more heavily this season than in years past, said he wants to continue to see the improvement in the timing and sharpness of the Generals’ passing game that he saw in last week’s scrimmage against Nelson County.

Strasburg figures to venture less from its traditional style, as Roller said the Rams will attempt to establish the running game – something he said his team didn’t do well against Moorefield – behind Miller and senior fullback Josh Pritchett while easing first-year starting quarterback Ethan Duckworth into his new role.

“They’ve got some big offensive linemen,” Goode said, “and we’ve just gotta play good fundamental football. We’ve gotta tackle well and just keep those big guys off our linebackers.”

Goode said his primary concern is seeing improvement from the Generals tonight, although it could be critical to maintaining Stonewall’s early optimism for the Generals to perform well and remain competitive against the Rams.

“I really hope that we do play good because a lot of kids are expecting a lot,” Stroop said, “and I don’t want kids to get down after that just like last year.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com