Rams ready for pivotal district matchup at Madison County

Mark Roller

STRASBURG – Strasburg High School’s football team has a showdown with red-hot Central looming next week, but that rivalry matchup could mean little for the Rams if they don’t take care of business tonight at Madison County.

The Rams hit the road for a 7:30 p.m. Bull Run District contest against the Mountaineers sitting just outside the Region 2B playoff picture with two regular season games remaining.

Strasburg, ranked ninth in its region in the latest VHSL playoff ratings, trails Buffalo Gap by 1.2 points for that eighth and final postseason spot, making a victory over Madison County a priority.

“It is a must-win,” Rams head coach Mark Roller said Tuesday. “It’s one of those things where you look at it and you say you’re sitting at 4-4 and you can get above .500 right now. Just thinking about this week, you’re not looking forward to next week, but it gives you a boost going into the Central week with two wins.

“We’ve always played Madison tough, they’ve always played us tough and it’s not gonna be any different this year. We’re looking for a good game and we’ve gotta get out on top early and make sure we take care of the football.”

Austin Miller

Strasburg (4-4, 1-1 Bull Run) bounced back last week with a 50-34 non-district win over Nelson County, a game in which the Rams rediscovered a running game that churned out 306 yards against the Governors.

Madison (2-6, 0-2), meanwhile, is coming off a pair of lopsided losses to Bull Run District heavyweights Central and Clarke County and has struggled this season under first-year head coach Chandler Rhoads.

“I don’t think anyone’s overlooking Madison this week,” said Rams senior running back/linebacker Austin Miller, who eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing with a 224-yard, four-touchdown performance against Nelson and now has an area-high 18 rushing TDs this season. “They just came off two hard losses so they’re gonna come out and wanna win this one.”

The Mountaineers have been run over by two powerful offenses over the last two weeks and have been outscored 138-10 in that span while allowing over 700 yards rushing.

Roller said Madison, which has a mix of youth and veteran players, has had to adjust to a switch from a 4-4 defense to a five-man front, which may be contributing to some of its defensive struggles.

Offensively, Roller said the Mountaineers lost junior starting quarterback Elijah Lewis to injury in last week’s loss to Clarke County, though he added that the Rams are preparing as if Lewis will play this week.

Madison, which is averaging 20 points per game (9.3 ppg in their six losses), began the season trying to implement a single-wing offense (Rhoads is a Clarke County grad) but has since switched to more of a spread scheme that heavily features the dual-threat ability of Lewis.

“I think what they have over there is they have a bunch of athletes and so they’re giving those guys the ball. When you do that good things happen, especially when you can get some guys with some moves into open space,” said Roller, whose defense is allowing 25.8 points and 292 yards per game. “We’ve gotta be able to stop that, make sure they’re not getting too open and make sure we’ve got 11 guys around the ball.”

Roller said sophomore Chase Hart would resume the starting quarterback duties for a Strasburg offense that is averaging 27 points and 341 yards per game behind a balanced attack. Hart (51 of 102 passing, 833 yards, five TDs, three interceptions) missed last week’s game due to injury and fellow sophomore Dylan Hamrick threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns in his stead. Those two rotated at the position through the first half of the season.

Though Strasburg’s biggest rival awaits on the horizon, Roller said the Rams have had no concerns about looking ahead to Central this week.

“I don’t think we’ve had that problem,” Roller said. “Our guys are still loose. We’re still doing things the right way, we’re having a little fun. If you don’t mix in a little fun with doing the right things you can kind of lose them a little bit. We’ve been able to do some of that and keep the momentum, the fire going, so they know what’s at stake.”