Rams come alive in second half to top Generals

STRASBURG – There was no other way to put it. Strasburg just needed to play better.

That was the message Rams head coach Mark Roller presented to his team at halftime, when Strasburg trailed county rival Stonewall Jackson by a touchdown after mustering a meager 19 yards of offense in the opening half of Friday night’s football season opener.

It was a simple message, but one that got through to the Rams, who found enough rhythm on offense to gain the lead in the third quarter and then used a key defensive stop on a 2-point conversion attempt in the final four minutes to rally past the Generals for a 13-12 win.

“We just kind of thought of coming out the first game and losing, you never want that,” Rams senior quarterback Ethan Duckworth said. “And Stonewall, it’s been a while since we lost to them – definitely didn’t want that. People have been kind of doubting us because of how low our numbers are … so it’s nice to come out and get that.”

Strasburg (1-0), which failed to gain a first down in the first half, picked up 130 yards in the second half while scoring touchdowns on a 2-yard run by Duckworth and a 20-yard pass from the senior to classmate Trevor Taff, but it was the defense – which limited the Generals to 57 yards in the second half – that delivered in the game-defining moment.

After Stonewall (0-1) had driven 65 yards on 12 plays (a drive extended by a costly Strasburg facemask penalty on a fourth-and-7 stop) to pull within 13-12 on senior Dylan Vann’s 4-yard scoring run with 3:38 to play, Generals second-year coach Jay Goode took a timeout to ponder his options. He chose to go for the lead.

“The players wanted to go for it there,” Goode said, “and we haven’t worked that much with the extra point and stuff there in practice. We haven’t really got that in, and I just kind of thought you get those two points there, you’re in pretty good shape, have a lot of momentum.”

Led by a surge on the defensive front by seniors Hunter Riley and Josh Pritchett, the Rams halted Vann well short of the goal line as he took the handoff and tried to power his way into the end zone behind the left guard.

“That wasn’t the play we were expecting them to run,” Roller said. “We thought they’d run something a little bit trickier. Obviously it was big. It was the game-changer because if they score there … we were having difficulty moving the ball on them. If they score there it’s a different game.”

Stonewall, after a 49-yard punt by Pritchett, had one final drive with 1:25 remaining but lost yardage on a sack by Riley and a false start penalty before turning the ball over on downs at their own 30.

Although Strasburg failed to end the drive with points, the Rams’ rejuvenation in the second half began with their first possession to open the third quarter, when they drove 73 yards on 11 plays – highlighted by Pritchett’s 28-yard rumble to the Generals’ 23 – before turning the ball over on downs at the 7.

“Our offensive line, they started to realize what they could do,” said Roller, who added that the Rams’ effort was aided by the absence of Generals junior defensive lineman Drew Binion for portions of the second half. “We were able to just maintain some blocks and (Rams running back) Austin (Miller) actually hit it up in there.”

Strasburg’s defense forced Stonewall to punt from its own 5 on the next possession and, after taking over at the Generals’ 42, reached the end zone on four plays and took the lead with Duckworth’s 2-yard plunge with 2:36 left in the third quarter.

“That’s also just a big confidence boost, because we were down,” said Duckworth, who completed 3 of 6 passes for 44 yards and a touchdown and ran for 19 yards. “We thought we’d already lost at that point, and getting that score, that helped a lot.”

Rams sophomore Tyjone Carter picked off a pass from Generals backup quarterback Logan Ritchie on a trick play during Stonewall’s next possession, which then triggered a 33-yard scoring drive for the Rams that ended when Duckworth floated a jump ball near the pylon to Taff, who hauled in the pass for a 20-yard touchdown and a 13-6 Strasburg lead with 9:49 to play.

Strasburg’s scoring drive was extended by a Stonewall facemask penalty on what would’ve been a stop on a fourth-down screen pass.

“We just keep making mistakes, that’s hurting us,” Goode said. “There were a lot of mistakes we made during the game, that was one too. We’ve just gotta get away from these mistakes, and it’s kind of just being a young team.”

Stonewall, which dominated time of possession in the first half on a hot and humid night, took a 6-0 lead into halftime with a 10-play, 46-yard drive that ended with Jacob Murphy’s 3-yard touchdown run with 1:02 left in the first half.

The Generals gained 169 yards of offense in the loss, including 147 on the ground. Murphy led Stonewall with 53 yards rushing on 12 carries, while John Howdyshell rushed 12 times for 48 yards.

Strasburg finished with 149 yards of offense, including 105 on the ground. Miller, who Roller said was “very hesitant” to hit the hole at times in his first start at running back, led the Rams with 49 yards on 16 carries, while Pritchett carried five times for 37 yards.

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

Box score

Rams 13, Generals 12
Stonewall Jackson 0 6 0 6 – 12
Strasburg 0 0 7 6 – 13
Second Quarter
SJ: Murphy 3 run (run failed), 1:02.
Third Quarter
S: Duckworth 2 run (J. Knapp kick), 2:36.
Fourth Quarter
S: Taff 20 pass from Duckworth (kick failed), 9:49.
SJ: Vann 4 run (run failed), 3:38.
First downs 6 9
Rushes-yards 28-105 41-147
Passing yards 44 22
Comp-Att-TD-INT 3-6-1-0 2-9-0-2
Penalties-yards 7-54 6-61
Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0
Punts-avg. 4-51.0 3-32.3
RUSHING: Strasburg, A. Miller 16-49, Pritchett 7-19, Duckworth 7-19; Stonewall Jackson, L. Patton 7-10, Murphy 12-53, Vann 5-15, Howdyshell 12-48, Ritchie 2-18, Hoover 3-3.
PASSING: Strasburg, Duckworth 3-6-44-1-0; Stonewall Jackson, Hoover 2-8-22-0-1, Ritchie 0-1-0-0-1.
RECEIVING: Strasburg, Rickard 1-6, G. Scott 1-18, Taff 1-20; Stonewall Jackson, Williams 2-22.