Rams hoping to keep momentum rolling against unbeaten Bulldogs

Strasburg's Austin Miller tries to run wide against King Wiliam's Austin McCray during last week's playoff game in Strasburg. The Rams travel to Goochland tonight for the second round of the Region 2A East playoffs. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Strasburg High School football coach Mark Roller says confidence is the “first battle” necessary to achieving any victory. After picking up their first playoff win since 2012 last week, the Rams should be feeling a bit of self-assuredness.

Strasburg scored a season high 41 points and excelled on special teams in a Region 2A East first-round victory over King William at home last Friday night, and now the No. 7 Rams will look to ride that momentum into today’s 7 p.m. matchup on the road against second-seeded Goochland.

“It definitely boosted our morale a little bit,” Rams senior lineman Ryan Jenkins said earlier this week, “because I know, me as a senior, all the years I’ve played on varsity we’ve never made it past the first round ever in the playoffs, so to win by that big of a margin and move on to the next round is pretty big for morale.

“It definitely shows what we can do as a team when we work together. We saw a little bit of that earlier in the year (in wins over) James Wood … and Central.”

Strasburg (8-3) will likely need every bit of that confidence and teamwork against Goochland, which rumbles into tonight’s game with a perfect 11-0 record after trouncing Washington and Lee 49-7 in the playoff opener last week.

Asked about his initial impression of the Bulldogs after seeing them on film earlier this week, Roller said simply, “They’re good,” while Rams senior quarterback/defensive end Ethan Duckworth found no shortage of compliments for the opposition.

“They’re quick. They hit hard. They’re big,” Duckworth said. “On defense they’re in the right spots at the right times. They’re just a well-coached football team.”

Goochland is averaging 38.5 points per game this season but it’s what the Bulldogs have done on defense that is perhaps the most impressive. They’re allowing just 7.4 points per game and have posted four shutouts in 2016, and the Bulldogs have limited opponents to 146.8 yards of offense per contest while forcing 24 turnovers.

“I think it’s just their speed and physicality,” Duckworth said of Goochland’s defensive success. “They’re running like a 4-2 I think and their middle linebackers are just so quick – outside runs, inside runs, they’re there every single time.”

Roller said no one individual on Goochland’s defense has stood out during Strasburg’s film study, adding that the Bulldogs’ effectiveness on defensive end rests on the Bulldogs’ ability to work together. Goochland head coach Joe Fowler echoed that observation in an email on Tuesday morning.

“The success of our defense is basically the sum of its parts,” Fowler wrote. “We don’t have any dominant player but a lot of really good players who fit together really well in our scheme. Our defensive line plays fast and physical and that has created a lot of turnovers on the back end.”

Strasburg’s offense is averaging 20.9 points and 257 yards per game this fall and is generating 157.6 rushing yards per contest behind junior running back Austin Miller (808 yards rushing, nine touchdowns) and senior fullback Josh Pritchett (529 yards rushing, 10 TDs). That duo, along with tight end Grant Scott, has served as the primary targets for Duckworth, who has completed 80 of 160 passes for 1,007 yards, 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

The Rams finished with only 223 yards of offense in last week’s win but regularly enjoyed short fields thanks to a handful of big special team plays – which included two blocked punts and a fumble recovery on a kickoff – and three interceptions from Strasburg’s defense.

Roller said it will be important for Strasburg to generate similar big plays against Goochland in order to tip the field position battle against a Bulldog defense allowing only 96.6 yards rushing per game.

“When you play against good teams you’ve gotta be able to do things and that’s what I see we have to do,” Roller said.

The Rams’ four takeaways against King William bumped their season total to 20, and Strasburg’s defense – led by senior Zack Scott’s 82 total tackles – is limiting opponents to 281.1 yards of offense per game, including 166.2 yards rushing.

Goochland’s double-wing offense has generated at least 41 points in six of the last seven games, and the Bulldogs are averaging 330.5 total yards and 267.6 yards rushing per contest.

Senior running back Marcus Burton has carried 98 times for 792 yards and nine touchdowns this fall to lead a group of four Bulldog backs with at least 444 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.

“(Goochland’s offense is) something that’s very similar to George Mason except that they have three or four guys that can run it as opposed to just one or two,” Roller said. “At any given moment those guys can break one off and go 60, 70 yards. We have to be able to contain them and just not give them the big play.”

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