Generals, Falcons hungry for rivalry victory

By Brian Ellerbeller@nvdaily.com

On paper, Stonewall Jackson is in the midst of another rough season. In the past month, the Generals have dropped heartbreaking games to George Mason, Strasburg and Madison County, culminating with an 0-5 record and a team whose hopes seem to lift during the week, yet come crashing down Friday nights.

“It’s definitely hard coming in every week going in and you’re winning and to have it taken away from you so suddenly,” Stonewall quarterback John-Michael Pirtle said. “You think about it every night, and it hurts. It’s hard to take. It definitely takes a toll on you emotionally, but you have to be level-headed and improve those things that cause the sputtering.”

With so much sputtering this season, it’s easy to overlook the Generals, particularly with zero wins to their name so far. But that’s not what Matt Sherfey sees when he looks at them on the schedule. To the Central quarterback, tonight’s rivalry game means so much more than a mark in the win/loss column.

“I know I can say this. I don’t look at them as 0-5. I look at them as a county rival and regardless of the record, they’re going to play one of their best games of the year against us,” Sherfey said. “I’m sure [coach Dick] Krol’s going to get them fired up and we’re playing on their turf. There’s a lot on the line for this game. It’s Stonewall and Central going at it in the backyard.”

Of course, there’s more at stake than just a simple backyard football game, none bigger than bragging rights in Shenandoah County. Among the three schools involved in the understood “rivalry” — Stonewall Jackson, Central and Strasburg — the Falcons currently hold the edge, having beaten the Rams, who defeated the Generals earlier this season.

While they have a leg up on their county rivals, the Falcons are still searching for some consistency this year, as a 2-3 record has them aiming to get back to .500. Central has lost two of its last three games, but a win two weeks ago against George Mason gave the team some momentum heading into its bye week, where the Falcons had ample time to prepare for their rival.

“So far it’s been a rocky start,” Sherfey said. “I don’t think it’s where we want to be. I think right now we were looking at 3-2 instead of 2-3, so it’s a little hard, but the biggest thing about this bye week was going in with a win instead of a loss. It’s a little bit easier to focus, so right now we’re getting our minds focused on the district and focused on Stonewall.”

Despite the Generals’ 0-5 mark, Sherfey and the Falcons will need that focus tonight, as Stonewall’s rushing attack has seen significant improvement over the past few weeks. Running backs Jared Getz and Anthony Peacher have seen increased time in the backfield, allowing each of them to rush for more than 300 yards and multiple touchdowns through five games. While most other teams use one primary running back — including Central, which relies heavily on Seth Bauserman — the Generals seem to have found a competitive balance between Getz and Peacher, both small yet shifty backs who are capable of breaking off long runs.

“I’ll give Getzie a dive up the middle and he’ll just break through the line and be gone,” Pirtle said. “I’ll hand it to Peacher and he’ll do his thing. He’s slow and methodical, and then in one second he’s gone. It’s amazing to see when I run a fake pass and I’ll turn back around and they could already be down the sideline.”

Defensively, Pirtle, who lines up in the Generals’ secondary, will get a chance to stifle Central’s passing attack, including wide receivers Sean Semones and Seth Wymer. Semones has been dealing with concussion symptoms, but will be on the field tonight, according to Sherfey. His 17 catches are tops on the team and second in the area, as are his 289 yards and three touchdowns.

It’s a challenge Pirtle says he and the rest of the secondary are ready for. Nearly every other team on the Generals’ schedule boasts a strong rushing attack, rarely giving the defensive backs and safeties chances to defend the pass. The Falcons, meanwhile, are sure to let the ball fly through the air, a matchup that has Pirtle licking his lips.

“We’ve been preparing very hard for their aerial attack,” he said. “They’re very good at what they do, and they put the ball in Sherfey’s hands. Me and the defensive backs, I know we’re ready to get back up there, focused and ready to go.”