After lopsided loss in 2017, Rams ready for rematch with Luray

Strasburg's Stephen Kloosterman returns an interception against Stonewall Jackson in the season opener last week. The Rams travel to Luray tonight. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Da’Neil Holliday probably spoke for many of Strasburg’s football players when he shook his head and said, “I did not like that game at all.”

He was referring to the Rams’ 2017 loss to Luray, during which the Bulldogs came into Ram Stadium in Week 2 and trampled Strasburg en route to a 41-14 win, prompting Rams head coach Mark Roller to call it, at the time, a “good old-fashioned butt whooping.”

It’s a new season with new players filling new roles on both teams, but those Rams who played in that contest last season haven’t quickly forgotten the physical beating they took as the teams prepare for tonight’s rematch at 7 p.m. in Luray.

“Last year I think we came out a little stale and we were scared of how big their size was,” Rams senior receiver/free safety Stephen Kloosterman said on Tuesday. “I think if we come out a little more physical this year we’re gonna look a lot better, we’re gonna do a lot better against their offense because it’s different than what you see around here.”

Luray’s T-formation offense, which features three running backs aligned side by side in the backfield, ran all over Strasburg in last season’s meeting, piling up over 450 yards rushing as three Bulldog ball carriers topped the 100-yard mark.

The players responsible for dealing that damage are gone, however. Luray, which went 11-2 last season and fell to Robert E. Lee in the Region 2B championship game, graduated most of its playmakers from 2017, including a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in quarterback Dylan Jenkins and running back Tristan Yowell.

Senior Evan Hamilton has emerged as Luray’s primary quarterback this season, Roller said, though sophomore Dalton Griffith also saw action there in the Bulldogs’ opener. Luray also features a brand-new crop of running backs after graduating its entire 2017 starting backfield, but Roller said the nucleus of the Bulldogs’ physical attack – the offensive line – remains largely intact.

How Strasburg responds to Luray’s physicality this time around could play a major role in deciding tonight’s winner.

“I think our guys are pretty physical and I think it’ll be a good matchup,” Roller said. “I think it’s gonna come down to who’s in better condition. They obviously have a little bit of a size advantage on us but our guys haven’t backed down and I think they’re looking forward to a challenge, and I think that’s good.”

Both teams are coming off wins in their season openers last week, with Luray holding off Madison County for a 30-28 victory on the road and Strasburg thumping county rival Stonewall Jackson, 47-0.

The Bulldogs (1-0), who had three 100-yard rushers against Madison County, raced out to a 20-0 lead before giving up a pair of Mountaineer touchdowns in the final 11 seconds of the second quarter, the second score set up by a Luray fumble on a kickoff return. The Bulldogs also lost a fumble deep in their own territory in the fourth quarter that set up a Madison touchdown with less than four minutes remaining.

Strasburg (1-0) spared the drama in its opener, scoring on its first six offensive possessions while limiting an overmatched Stonewall Jackson squad to just 90 yards of offense.

The Rams were balanced on offense – junior quarterback Chase Hart threw for 182 yards and three touchdowns, including a 23-yard scoring strike to Kloosterman and touchdown passes of 45 and 57 yards to junior Trevor Sager, and junior running back Jalen Bray ran for 127 yards and two TDs in his first varsity start – and Holliday said their defensive effort suggests that Strasburg is better equipped to handle Luray’s ground game this season.

“I feel like together we work better as a unit and I like how we fly to the ball this year,” the junior fullback/linebacker said. “I think we’re gonna do pretty good with that.”

Holliday added that last week’s performance against Stonewall was the best Strasburg could’ve hoped for in a season opener, and Roller said the next step as the Rams hit the road for the first time is to build on their Week 1 win.

“Certainly it’s gonna be a tougher task this week,” Roller said. “… I think you’ve just gotta err on the side of a letdown, of being overconfident. That’s kind of the thing we’ve been preaching this week is we’ve gotta play it. Each week it becomes a tougher task because everybody has that extra week that they get better, so we’ve gotta do that also.”