More challenges in store for Rams in playoff rematch with top-seeded Eagles

Mark Roller

STRASBURG – High roster turnover made a return to the playoffs a challenge for Strasburg High School’s football team entering the 2017 campaign, but the Rams are back in the postseason.

The Rams jumped into the eighth and final spot in the Region 2B playoff field despite a lopsided loss to Central last week, marking the third straight season Strasburg has advanced to postseason play.

“Obviously yes, happy to be back in the playoffs,” head coach Mark Roller said on Tuesday. “For a young group, what we had – we only have six seniors – and the injuries we’ve had to overcome, for this group to get to where we are, I think it’s been a very successful season. Obviously there’s some games there we thought we let go early on in the season, let get away from us, but we could’ve let that get on us and get us down but they just kept fighting and were able to pull back and we got to .500. So I think we had a good year.”

Another tall order lies ahead for the Rams (5-5), who now square off with top-seeded Clarke County (9-1) in a 7 p.m. kickoff tonight in Berryville.

The first-round game will mark the second meeting between the two Bull Run District rivals this season, as Clarke County ran away from the Rams for a 49-20 win in Strasburg on Oct. 13. That game was tied 14-all in the second quarter before the Eagles pulled away with 35 unanswered points.

“Our guys kind of realized that we can play with some of those teams like that,” Roller said of the first matchup with Clarke. “I think that’s important for young kids. I mean we have four of the six seniors out there on the field at one time and so the rest of them are all young, so that means they can see some things, the accomplishments they’re having on the field. That’s a positive for them and the maturation process to get us to where we are.”

The Eagles’ win over Strasburg started a string of three straight victories to end the season for Clarke following a blowout loss to Central on Oct. 6. Clarke County had a bye in the regular season’s final week last week.

Clarke County’s single-wing offense has churned out at least 425 yards over its last three games and for the season is averaging 38.9 points and 366.4 yards of offense – including 305.6 yards rushing – per contest.

Sophomore running back Peyton Rutherford leads the Eagles with 246 carries for 1,899 yards and 27 touchdowns this season.

Strasburg surrendered 424 yards on the ground to Clarke County in their first meeting, and Roller said the Rams’ would be best served by sustaining their own offensive drives to keep the Eagles’ offense off the field in the rematch.

“I think the thing that we need to do is take care of the football, be able to control the clock and win the time of possession,” Roller said. “That’s tough to do. Going back and looking at our film from the first game, they had it quite a while in the first half. Not a whole lot of touches for us.

“They have the ability to milk the clock and they also have the ability to score quickly. For us we just gotta make sure that we can take care of the football and help with that process, that clock management process, and when we do that, be able to put points on the board at the end.”

Strasburg’s offense has centered on senior running back Austin Miller (1,179 rushing yards, 20 total touchdowns), though the Rams possess the tools for a balanced attack behind the arm of sophomore quarterback Chase Hart (1,322 yards passing, nine touchdowns, four interceptions) and receivers Stephen Kloosterman (30 receptions, 566 yards, six touchdowns), Brody Tomblin (29 catches, 523 yards, three touchdowns) and Trevor Sager.

Clarke County’s defense, led by Bull Run District Defensive Player of the Year Bryan Wallace (116 total tackles, 12 sacks), is allowing 16.1 points and 245.1 yards per game.

Regardless of Friday night’s outcome, Roller said the game presents the Rams’ young players with a prime learning experience.

“Sometimes I wonder if they understand the excitement of the playoffs and what it takes to get to where we need to be. And I think it’s a stepping stone for these guys, the young ones, to see where we’re at and to see kind of the playoff experience,” he said. “But I told them in here today that if we just do the things we need to do and take care of the football, I think we can walk away with a win. Certainly Clarke County’s telling their kids the same thing, not to underestimate us.”