Dominant second half rallies Rams past Wildcats

FRONT ROYAL – Strasburg High School’s football coaching staff didn’t recognize the Rams team that competed in the first half of Friday night’s game at Warren County. The unit that took the field for the final two quarters was more recognizable.

Trailing by 14 points at halftime, the Rams shut out Warren County in the second half while limiting the Wildcats to 32 yards of offense, and scored 17 unanswered points to rally for a 24-21 Bull Run District win to spoil the Wildcats’ homecoming night.

“At halftime the coaches talked to us, told us that we need to get our heads straight,” Rams senior linebacker/fullback Josh Pritchett said. “They told us that we were a different team in the first half and we just came out here and played like that team and, I mean, we came back and put one against a pretty decent team. That’s hard to do sometimes.”

Strasburg (5-2, 2-1 Bull Run), which turned the ball over twice in the first half, finished with 308 yards of offense, including 202 yards in the second half. The Rams picked up 14 first downs over the final two quarters and dominated time of possession.

“I think we just kind of turned it on,” Rams head coach Mark Roller said. “I would like to say it was the challenge I put forth at halftime but I really don’t think that’s what it was. I think that they actually showed the team that they actually are there in the second half.”

With Warren County (1-6, 0-4) leading 21-7 entering the third quarter, Strasburg’s Brody Tomblin opened the second half with a 37-yard kickoff return to midfield. From there the Rams used eight plays to reach the end zone as Austin Miller finished the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run on a toss to the right to pull Strasburg within a touchdown.

Strasburg lost a fumble at the Wildcat 8 on its next possession, but a short punt by Warren County set the Rams up at the Wildcat 40. The Rams tied the game eight plays later when Pritchett barreled across the goal line with 11:16 to play.

The Rams, who mustered only 40 yards rushing on 23 carries against the Wildcats, relied heavily on the quick passing game in the second half. Senior quarterback Ethan Duckworth completed 22 of 43 passes for 268 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.

Duckworth completed passes to six different receivers, including eight to Pritchett (108 yards receiving) and five to Justin Rickard (41 yards).

“When you get a team who kind of stiffs you in the running game you’ve kind of gotta do some other things,” Roller said. “We did what we had to do and took what they gave us.”

Strasburg put together the game-winning drive on its next possession. Starting at their own 23, the Rams moved to the Wildcat 45 on a trio of completions by Duckworth. Warren County then committed a pair of costly penalties, first by jumping offsides on fourth-and-3 with the Rams lined up to punt, then by getting flagged for a roughing-the-passer penalty on the next play.

“We were on the field a lot on defense,” said Wildcats head coach Steven Crist, whose team was flagged 12 times for 117 yards in the loss. “We just couldn’t seem to get off the field in key situations.”

A pass interference penalty against the Wildcats later in the drive moved Strasburg to the 6-yard line, setting up Jacob Knapp’s go-ahead 24-yard field goal with 6:20 to play.

Roller said he considered going for it on fourth-and-3 from the 6 but adhered to advice from his assistant coaches. Knapp responded by sneaking his first career field goal attempt just over the crossbar to put the Rams up 24-21.

“There was a lot of pressure involved with it but I just calmed myself down and stuck to what I’d learned in practice, what my coaches have taught me, and I just kicked,” Knapp said.

“At first, yes (I was worried the kick was too low) but then I saw it going and I thought it was going through.”

In a key possession after Warren County’s seventh punt of the night, Strasburg converted a pair of crucial third downs on its final drive to drain valuable time off the clock. Facing a third-and-14 from their own 26, Duckworth floated a pass to Pritchett, who tiptoed along the sideline while shaking a tackle near the 35 before picking up 18 yards and a first down.

“I watch NFL players do it and I just wanted to be like them, so I did it,” Pritchett said with a laugh.

Strasburg converted another third down on the drive when Duckworth hit Trevor Taff (three catches, 36 yards) for 9 yards before the Rams punted the ball back to Warren County with 1:22 left.

Tomblin sealed Strasburg’s victory when he intercepted Cam Ford’s desperation pass near midfield, capping a stellar second-half defensive performance that saw the Rams hold Warren County to just two first downs.

“We started doing the things we were coached to do,” Roller said. “Let them catch the ball underneath. They got a couple guys deep there once or twice when (Ford) was scrambling around but for the most part pleased with the way we executed defensively.”

Warren County, which has now lost five straight, took a 14-0 lead in the second quarter. A 44-yard pass from Ford (12 of 21, 179 yards, two touchdowns, interception) to Parker Meltvedt and a 16-yard strike to Marqwon Haley (five receptions, 67 yards) set up a 10-yard touchdown pass to R.J. Keeney early in the quarter.

Michael Carter’s interception of a Duckworth pass set up a 22-yard scoring strike from Ford to Ben Vogt to put the Wildcats up 14 with 7:44 to play in the second quarter.

Warren County had 238 yards of offense in the first half.

“I think we just came out and we were way too flat,” Knapp said. “We came out thinking we were just gonna breeze through them. They’ve only won one game, we came into thinking they were just an easy team to beat. They fought and we didn’t see it coming.”

Strasburg got on the board with a 37-yard touchdown pass from Duckworth to Miller on fourth down to cut the deficit to 7 before the Wildcats answered with Ryan Guerrero’s 8-yard touchdown run with 3:03 left in the first half.

“Any time you lose it’s tough and it’s gonna hurt, but we’ve got more games to play,” Crist said. “Gotta come back on Monday ready to work and be ready to go.”

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

Box score

Rams 24, Wildcats 21
Strasburg 0 7 7 10 – 24
Warren County 0 21 0 0 – 21
Second Quarter
WC: Keeney 10 pass from Ford (Ashley kick), 10:11.
WC: Vogt 22 pass from Ford (Ashley kick), 7:44.
S: A. Miller 37 pass from Duckworth (Knapp kick), 5:25.
WC: Guerrero 8 run (Ashley kick), 3:03.
Third Quarter
S: A. Miller 12 run (Knapp kick), 10:24.
Fourth Quarter
S: Pritchett 3 run (Knapp kick), 11:16.
S: Knapp 24 field goal, 6:20.
First downs 19 9
Rushes-yards 23-40 33-91
Passing yards 268 179
Comp-Att-Int 22-43-2 12-21-1
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-0
Penalties-yards 5-30 12-117
Punts-avg. 4-30.3 7-28.1
RUSHING: Strasburg, A. Miller 9-8, Pritchett 9-28, Duckworth 4-5; Warren County, Dodson 15-59, Ford 15-18, Guerrero 3-14.
PASSING: Strasburg, Duckworth 22-43-268-1-2; Warren County, Ford 12-21-179-2-1.
RECEIVING: Strasburg, Rickard 5-41, Pritchett 8-108, G. Scott 3-27, Taff 3-36, A. Miller 2-49, Kloosterman 1-7; Warren County, Meltvedt 2-48, Haley 5-67, Keeney 1-10, Dodson 1-16, Vogt 3-38.