Rams, Wildcats each seeking to rebound in district clash

Strasburg's Austin Miller looks to avoid Clarke County's Brett McDonald during a game on Oct. 7 in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

Strasburg and Warren County high schools are each coming off blowout losses on the football field last week, but both teams are in different places as they prepare for tonight’s 7 p.m. Bull Run District matchup in Front Royal.

Warren County’s 35-10 loss on the road to William Monroe last Friday marked the team’s fourth straight defeat, and the Wildcats (1-5, 0-3 Bull Run District), who will celebrate homecoming against the Rams, are left scrambling to find consistency across the board as the second half of the season approaches.

Strasburg, meanwhile, saw its three-game winning streak snapped as the Rams were handled at home in a 52-14 loss to Clarke County. Now the Rams (4-2, 1-1 Bull Run) are aiming to regroup from their first loss since Week 2 of the season.

Strasburg head coach Mark Roller said Tuesday that much of the focus for the Rams in practice early this week has been minimizing the penalties and mental mistakes that have plagued the team over the last couple of weeks.

“It starts with the mental capacity of just being able to concentrate and do the things we’re supposed to do. That’s been one thing,” Roller said. “And certainly the other thing that we’ve started talking about this week is to get back to the things that we’ve done well, both offensively and defensively. And I think our kids understand that, and they also understand we’ve gotta move forward. We can’t dwell on Friday night and wonder what if. We’ve gotta move forward and if we don’t we’re gonna end up losing twice.”

Warren County quarterback R.J. Keeney runs to the sideline during a game against Central on Oct. 3 in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Strasburg senior lineman Ryan Jenkins said the Rams have been driven to bounce back after being dominated up front against Clarke County last week, as the Eagles rushed for 434 yards last week while limiting the Rams to 176 yards of offense and just 17 yards rushing.

“We’ve just gotta come off and instead of taking a hit in the first series, we’ve gotta lay the hits,” Jenkins said. “We’ve gotta establish the line of scrimmage, just gotta be sound up front and capitalize on our blocks.”

Roller said Strasburg will certainly attempt to try to establish a more consistent rushing attack against the Wildcats, adding that the Rams’ offensive line “has a little bit to prove,” although Warren County head coach Steven Crist is ready to see plenty of Rams senior quarterback Ethan Duckworth as well.

Duckworth has completed 41 of 78 passes (52.6 percent) for 610 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions to lead an offense that is averaging 19.5 points and 247 yards per game. The Rams are averaging 145.3 yards rushing, led by junior running back Austin Miller (499 yards, six touchdowns) and senior fullback Josh Pritchett (232 yards, 3 touchdowns).

“They’re pretty balanced on offense. Duckworth, he’s a good quarterback. He makes some good reads and he’s accurate with the ball. They’re pretty balanced and they’ve got a good line, they’ve got good skill guys,” Crist said.

“We’ve got to control the line of scrimmage. We’ve gotta execute our assignments and we’ve gotta be physical. That’s not just the linemen against the run game, that’s in everything. Those three things are gonna be big.”

Warren County’s defense, much like its offense, has had trouble capitalizing on the opportunities presented to it this season. Wildcats senior linebacker Ryan Guerrero said Warren County’s struggle during its four-game losing streak has been a lack of intensity.

“Right now this week we’ve really upped our intensity more than we have the past couple weeks,” Guerrero said Wednesday. “I know we’ve been a little slow the past couple weeks but this week we’ve definitely picked it up. We’ve picked up the intensity. We’ve picked up the focus. Everything else is probably gonna be great for homecoming.”

The Wildcats’ inability to finish drives on offense plagued them once again in last week’s loss to Monroe, Crist said.

In an effort to give Warren County’s offense a boost, senior receiver Cam Ford has relieved starting quarterback R.J. Keeney at multiple points this season. Ford also was the Wildcats’ starting QB last week against Monroe, Crist said, although the head coach was mum on who would start under center against Strasburg.

Roller said the Rams are preparing to see Ford, the more dangerous runner of the two quarterbacks, taking the snaps tonight.

“He gives them a different dynamic offensively,” Roller said of Ford, who has rushed for 144 yards this season. “And that’s the thing that we kind of focused on because he’s been the quarterback the last several games. It does pose a threat, especially when you don’t have much team speed. Obviously we’ve gotta do a good job of corralling him and not letting him break out for big yards.”

Ford has completed 21 of 42 passes for 152 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, while Keeney (46.6 percent completion rate, 518 yards passing) has struggled to take care of the football, throwing 11 interceptions to five touchdowns.

Warren County’s offense is averaging 12.8 points and 234.2 yards per game, including 120.7 yards rushing, led by Ronnie Dodson’s 83 carries for 392 yards and a touchdown. Strasburg’s defense, meanwhile, is allowing 254.2 yards per game, one of the best marks among local schools.

Both Roller and Crist said they expect their respective teams to show the necessary effort in rebounding from their losses this week.

“You’re gonna face adversity a lot in your life, so how are you gonna handle it? How are you gonna react to it?” Crist said. “We’re working hard, focusing on our job, executing our assignments. Same things that we always would, but now it’s with a little bit of adversity. We’re just gonna go out and we’re gonna play, we expect to play hard.”

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