Warren County Football Notebook: Wildcats reap rewards of team unity in comeback win

Warren County coach Brian Bush runs out on the field Friday night during their game against Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Warren County High School junior running back Ronnie Dodson said following last Friday’s win over Strasburg that the Wildcats’ football team proved it’s a different group in 2017. Freshman quarterback Bryce Post echoed that statement.

Warren County was required to come from behind to beat the Rams on their homecoming night, trailing 16-0 only three minutes into the game before rallying to score 33 of the game’s final 41 points for a 33-24 victory.

Dodson said it was a comeback that likely wouldn’t have happened a season ago – when the Wildcats went 3-7 and missed the playoffs for the second straight season – and first-year Warren County head coach Brian Bush said the Wildcats’ ability to respond was a testament to the team’s older players.

“Our leaders are stepping up,” Bush said after the win. “… They start to see that when everybody starts to play together it’s a lot more fun. Instead of the pointing fingers and individual-type players they’re able to come together and be that family, and it’s a lot of fun to come out here and just play the game of football.”

The victory gave Warren County consecutive wins for the first time since the 2014 season, which was also the last time the Wildcats have made the playoffs.

It was also the first road win of the season for the Wildcats, who are now 2-2 overall in 2017 and ranked second in Region 3B in the first Virginia High School League playoff ratings of the season.

“It’s real big, you know,” Bush said of going on the road and knocking off Strasburg. “This team was a good team. We were able to go on the road and do what we do best, and I think we overcame that adversity.”

SETTLING IN: Warren County’s unpromising start included the defense surrendering a 60-yard scoring drive on Strasburg’s first possession and a 19-yard touchdown pass on the Rams’ next play following a Wildcat fumble on a kickoff.

The Wildcats’ defense regrouped after that, allowing just one more Ram touchdown over the final 45 minutes of game time.

Strasburg finished with 285 yards of offense, as Warren County limited the Rams to just 107 yards in the second half, 85 of which came through the air. Over half of those second-half yards came on a four-play, 65-yard touchdown drive that briefly reclaimed the lead for Strasburg.

Warren County’s defense sealed the win with two stops in the fourth quarter. Quarterback pressure from Wildcat sophomore linebacker Patrick Coffron helped force a three-and-out early in the fourth quarter, and Warren County swarmed Ram quarterback Chase Hart for a sack on fourth-and-long from the Wildcat 31 with 4:41 to play to end Strasburg’s final possession of the night.

“We settled in a little bit but we made a few adjustments,” Bush said of Warren County’s defense, which allowed only 118 yards rushing on 30 carries. “One of them was when they were trading the tight end and all that stuff we weren’t bumping at first. We made sure to clean up that. We just had to make sure that we were ready to play and we were ready for the fight, and we weren’t at the beginning.”

FOURTH DOWN MAGIC: One of the keys to Warren County’s comeback win over the Rams was a methodical scoring drive on the Wildcats’ first offensive possession of the night.

After losing a fumble on a kickoff that set up Strasburg’s second touchdown of the night early in the first quarter, Warren County answered with a 14-play, 49-yard touchdown drive to cut the Rams’ lead in half.

On the drive, the Wildcats converted two fourth downs – the first on a 4-yard pass from Post to junior Ethan Patterson on fourth-and-3, and the second on Dodson’s 3-yard touchdown run on a pitch to the right on fourth-and-1.

That fourth-down magic became a theme for the Wildcats, who were 5-for-6 on those opportunities in the game.

“It’s them,” Bush said, gesturing toward his players, when asked about Warren County’s fourth-down success. “They know that when times get tough and we need to have a play, they were able to step up and deliver.”

Trailing 24-20 midway through the third quarter, Warren County again converted a pair of fourth downs on a lengthy drive to reclaim the lead. Dodson’s 12-yard run right up the middle on fourth-and-6 from the Strasburg 26 eventually led to Post’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Jorge Figueroa on fourth-and-7 from the 11.

The Wildcats’ final score of the night came on another fourth-and-7 from the Strasburg 11, when Dodson got to the edge on the right side and tight-roped down the sideline and into the end zone with 11:47 to play.

“We were just saying the whole time, make a bigger play next time,” Post said of Warren County’s fourth-down situations, “and that’s what we did.”