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Rams seek to keep momentum against winless Generals

By Brian Eller beller@nvdaily.com
STRASBURG — It’s tough to say what’s different with Strasburg football. The playbook is the same, as are the players running the offense. The Rams still feature a versatile ground game, with senior quarterback Michael Reynolds under center. There’s no tangible thing to point to as to what’s changed for the program.

Maybe that’s because players and coaches can’t seem to find the words, either. The mood has changed, players will admit, but the day-to-day routine is still the same, just with a little more — intensity.

“We still go through the same motions and everything, but everybody’s tempo is high,” Reynolds said. “Everybody’s happy, everybody definitely wants to be here. There’s nobody out here saying, ‘I wish we didn’t have practice today.’ Everybody wants to win more and that’s how we’re taking practice because we’re not done.”

Just three weeks ago, the Rams weren’t thinking about the idea of “winning more.” All they were focused on was winning. But following an 0-3 start to the season, Strasburg has turned a corner, winning back-to-back games for the first time since 2007. During that time the Rams have found success in their running game, where a few injuries on defense have surprisingly paved the way for some new faces who have emerged at running back.

Heading into the season, the ground game looked to be anchored by sophomore Rakwon White. But with some health issues on defense, White was moved to play both sides of the ball, limiting his carries and opening up the door for tailbacks Billy Mann, Todd Dean and Brad Hough. The switch has paid off. Last Friday, in a 36-22 win at Page County, the Rams scored four touchdowns on the ground, as White, Mann, Hough and Reynolds each scrambled for a score.

“Winning has brought a different atmosphere to our practice,” coach Mark Roller said. “Not that we weren’t intense before, but our guys are more intense and the feeling’s a lot different. They’re not used to winning. And in order to get your program going, winning breeds success, and I think that’s what we’re seeing right now.”

And while Strasburg is relishing the effects of winning, Stonewall Jackson is still searching for its first victory of the season. Coincidentally, the Generals are in many ways a mirror image of tonight’s opponent. The Generals are also off to an 0-3 start and have faced a tough schedule so far with games against Wilson Memorial, Clarke County and George Mason.

The Generals are also led by an experienced quarterback in John-Michael Pirtle, whose combination of arm and leg strength gives Stonewall some options on offense. When he’s not running or throwing the ball, the junior will likely hand off to any number of running backs, including Cole Shaffer, Jared Getz or Trevor Warner, who together have rushed for more than 300 yards.

In order to win, however, Stonewall must limit its mistakes, a task that recently has been easier said than done. In the team’s last game, the Generals held a slim lead midway through the fourth quarter, but several penalties and mental errors cost them the win against George Mason.

“We’ve had two solid weeks of practice,” Pirtle said, “and I definitely hope that the intensity of that Mason game carries over to Strasburg. But you know, if we can’t get up for Strasburg, then we’re in trouble, because it’s Strasburg. It’s a rivalry. The team that’s going to win is the team who’s stronger, who’s faster and this game means a lot. We want to win this game and we need to win this game.”

Winning won’t be easy, however. Less than a month ago, Strasburg was in the same position Pirtle and the Generals face tonight, the possibility of dropping to 0-4 on the year. Reynolds would love nothing more than to turn that possibility into reality, but even the senior admits, despite the records, anything can happen on the field.

“There can always be an upset,” Reynolds said. “You go and watch college football back when [Appalachian State] beat Michigan. Anything can happen in football. With Stonewall, it doesn’t matter who the best team is. It matters who’s going to go out there, play the hardest and hit … whoever wants it most is going to come out with the win.”