Central and Strasburg have had a long and storied football rivalry, but on Friday night a new chapter will be written.

The two Shenandoah County squads will play in perhaps the biggest game in the rivalry's history -- with a Class 2 state berth on the line. Top-seeded Strasburg hosts third-seeded Central in the Region 2B finals.

"It means a lot," Central senior offensive/defensive lineman Gaige Lewis said. "Strasburg-Central is always the biggest game every year. Their community is really football heavy. Our community is really football heavy. It's just always a good game."

"That's pretty exciting," Strasburg senior quarterback/defensive back Ryan Roller said of playing Central for a state berth. "It's really nerve racking to be one of the guys playing in it. I've been watching on the sidelines my whole life. Being able to play in one of the biggest games in our school's history -- it's pretty cool."

The two teams just met at Central on Nov. 4 and a lot was on the line in that game as well. Strasburg won 22-17 to earn the top seed in the region, the Shenandoah County Championship (which goes to the top team in the county) and the Bull Run District title.

Roller said he knows it will be tough to beat Central for a second time.

"It was a tough game, it was a tough win for us," Roller said. "We pulled out on top, so hopefully we can do it again. It's always tougher to beat a team twice, everybody knows that. So hopefully we can come out on top."

Lewis said the Falcons need to stay more composed this week than they did in the last meeting.

"It was a winnable game," Lewis said. "We need to be more of a team. That game there was a lot of fighting. There was a lot of arguing. A lot of hot heads and we just need to cool down and stay collected."

Strasburg is coming off a 28-7 win over fifth-seeded Stuarts Draft last week. The Rams started off sluggish in the first quarter on offense, while the defense played solid all night long. The defense held the Cougars to 47 yards of total offense.

"I think we were able to overcome a slow start and then the penalties that we had to start off with," Strasburg head football coach Mark Roller said. "Some of the miscues we had that we haven't normally had throughout the season that could have come back and bite us but didn't. But you can't make those mistakes from here on out. Because everybody is going to take advantage of those mistakes. You've got to be on your A game from here on out."

Strasburg has won 11 straight games, with its only loss coming by forfeit against Skyline in the season opener. The Rams are averaging 33.7 points per game, and allowing just 7.3 per contest.

The Falcons are coming off a 22-12 win over second-seeded Luray on the road. The win avenged Central's 41-25 loss to Luray in the regular season. The Falcons trailed 12-7 at halftime, after a Central fumble led to a Luray touchdown late in the opening half.

"Our kids just persevered through the one mistake," Central head football coach Mike Yew said. "I think we played just a very, very sound second half, and a very good fourth quarter."

Central is averaging 32.9 points per contest and allowing just 12.3 points per game.

The Falcons are trying to win their second straight regional title. Lewis said it's special to be playing again on Thanksgiving week.

"It's definitely very special," Lewis said. "It's a good feeling two years in a row we get to practice on Thanksgiving. Me and all the rest of the seniors are hoping we practice next week too."

The Rams are trying to win the program's eighth regional title, but its first since 2001. Mark Roller, who played in two regional finals as a player in the late 1980s, said he's hoping this can be the start of a tradition again for the program.

"It's something that if you can start to get them to believe and how excited, how important it is to be able to play (Thanksgiving week) because that means that you're moving on later in the season," Mark Roller said. "And not too many teams get to practice on Thanksgiving day. So there's a lot of teams out there that are sitting at home and basketball season or wrestling season has started. And so for our kids, hopefully, it's the start of a little bit of a tradition here to get them to get our teams in the future thinking about practicing on Thanksgiving day."

Both coaches have played in the rivalry. Mark Roller is a Strasburg graduate and Yew is a Central graduate. Both coaches said Friday's meeting will be a special one for the community.

"One of us is going to represent Shenandoah County (in the state semifinals)," Mark Roller said. "And I think it's good for the community and good for Strasburg. We haven't been here for quite some time. To get back here I think there's a lot of people talking around the town, and especially the older group that remembers back when (Strasburg went to states in the past). I think it's a positive not only for the community, but for our kids also."

"It's just been a very strong, healthy rivalry for many, many years," Yew said. "Mark (Roller) and I were part of it as players. We watched it, we were part of it as little kids. And now here we are 34 years later we're part of it as coaches with the next generation. The rivalry has been tremendous. I think it's healthy. I think it's great for the kids. I've always believed being the county champion is a great feather in your cap and everything else is just added to it. Obviously, the district title went to them this year, and we'll just see what happens Friday night."

Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com

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