Rams stressing fresh start in playoff matchup with King William

Strasburg quarterback Ethan Duckworth scrambles in the backfield during a game against Clarke County earlier this season in Strasburg. The Rams host King William in the playoffs tonight. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Strasburg High School’s football team saw its regular season end in disappointing fashion with a blowout loss at home to William Monroe last week. Now in the Group 2A East Region playoffs, the Rams are ready to start fresh.

Strasburg, the seventh seed, hosts No. 10 King William at 7 tonight at Ram Stadium, marking the second time in three seasons the two teams will clash in the opening round of the playoffs.

All week the Rams have been stressing the ideology of tonight’s game marking the start of a new season.

“I think we’re focused a little bit more this week than we have been, I hope, and kind of eager to go and get out there,” said Strasburg head coach Mark Roller, whose team fell to King William, 37-12, at home in 2014.

Strasburg (7-3), which was soaring high after a win over county rival Central two weeks ago, fell flat against William Monroe last week in a 38-7 thumping that saw the Rams lose starting quarterback Ethan Duckworth to a knee injury.

Duckworth was in pads at practice on Tuesday evening with a brace on his left knee, although he appeared to be walking gingerly. Following that practice Roller said he expected the senior to play tonight against King William (7-3), adding that Duckworth’s progress would be monitored throughout the week and his status would likely be a game-time decision.

Roller said Duckworth, who also starts at defensive end and is the Rams’ second-leading tackler, suffered the injury about midway through the second quarter when his kneecap “shifted and then shifted right back in” while engaging a Monroe blocker. Roller said Duckworth, who was relieved by sophomore Brody Tomblin (six of 11 passing, 61 yards, two interceptions last week), avoided damage to the ligaments in his knee as a result of the injury.

“I think he’s gonna play. The problem right now is how much is he gonna play?” Roller said. “I don’t think it turned out to be as severe as what was originally thought, so he’s good in that capacity. It’s just a matter of whether or not he’s gonna be able to go out there and play for 48 minutes.”

Duckworth’s ability to suit up and contribute tonight could prove a critical factor for a Strasburg offense that will need to keep pace with a King William team averaging 35 points per game.

Duckworth has thrown for 926 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions this year to lead a Ram offense averaging 18.9 points and 260.5 yards of offense per game. Junior running back Austin Miller (759 yards rushing, eight touchdowns) and senior fullback Josh Pritchett (463 yards rushing, eight touchdowns) lead a Strasburg rushing attack that could be asked to shoulder an even larger bulk of the offensive workload should Duckworth be unable to play.

The Cavaliers’ defense is allowing 23.4 points per game this fall and hasn’t allowed an opponent to score more than 18 points in the last four games.

“They just like to make things happen defensively. They’re primarily in a 4-4, 4-3, some man coverage there. And they like to bring some pressure,” said Roller, whose team has turned the ball over 14 times in 10 games this season.

“They want you to commit some turnovers and they want to make things uncomfortable for you. And I think that’s why they’ve scored so many points is that they’re able to do that to some teams that commit some turnovers.”

King William, which won its ninth straight Tidewater District championship this season, has claimed five straight victories entering tonight’s matchup, including a 90-18 trouncing of winless King and Queen Central last week. The Cavaliers are averaging 49.2 points during the winning streak.

Strasburg and King William do share a common opponent this season – the Cavaliers fell 62-30 in their season opener against Madison County, the same team the Rams beat 34-32 on Oct. 21.

In last week’s victory, 10 different players accounted for at least one touchdown for the Cavaliers. King William junior quarterback Ryan Huffman threw four touchdown passes and rushed for two more, while senior running back Brenon Sawdy ran for two scores and caught a touchdown pass.

Roller said he expects the Cavaliers to be 60-40 in favor of the running game, and Pritchett said the key for Strasburg’s defense – which is allowing 22.6 points, 279.8 yards of total offense and 170.1 yards rushing per game in 2016 – is to not get caught out of position by King William’s no-huddle offense.

“Just be on the ball and be ready. I mean you can’t really defend against that, you’ve just gotta be ready for the play,” Pritchett said.

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