Editor’s note: The following story ran in The Northern Virginia Daily on Nov. 23, 1996.
When Stonewall Jackson arrived in Strasburg Friday evening for the most important football game in its history, quarterback Jason Lutz knew his team would be all right. He didn’t have that “weird” feeling of three weeks ago when the Generals made the same trip and got blown out.
This time everything felt right. This time the Generals had their minds completely on the game. Three weeks ago seemed prehistoric.
“We had a lot more confidence,” Lutz said.
The Generals had a lot more of a lot of things in this Division 1, Region B championship game. They made big plays on offense, forced turnovers on defense and didn’t get down when they messed up. When the Generals were done doing all those things, they felt like only they believed they would.
Stonewall Jackson 21, Strasburg 8.
The Generals believed it could happen. Now everyone else has no choice because the Generals, not the previously undefeated Rams, will be playing in the state semifinals next Saturday at the winner of today’s Surry-Charles City winner.
“We believed if we played 100 percent to our ability and took it at ‘em and never let up, we’d have the game,” lineman Darren Steadman said. “That’s what we did. It was nothing like the last time.”
Not one bit.
This time Stonewall controlled the line of scrimmage. This time Stonewall got the early lead and didn’t let go. This time the game never lacked for a hard hit or a crucial situation.
“It was about everything I thought it would be,” Strasburg coach Glenn Proctor said.
It seemed as if it would be everything the first game was when Stonewall’s Josh Mason fumbled at the end of a 14-yard run on the third play of the game. “You have no idea how mad I was,” Mason said.
When those kind of plays happened in Strasburg’s 38-18 win during the regular season, Mason said, the Generals got down on themselves. They were determined not to let that attitude invade their thoughts in this game. They didn’t disappoint themselves.
Strasburg moved to the Stonewall 10 late in the first quarter, but the defense threw the Rams for losses on the next two plays and a fourth-and-11 pass gained only two yards.
The Generals moved the ball out to the 30, then stung the Rams with a big surprise. Lutz hit Mason in stride down the middle and 70 yards later, the Generals had a 7-0 lead.
“That was great execution,” Proctor said.
The next time the Generals got the ball, Freddie Rios took a quick pitch 49 yards down the left sideline to the 5. On third down, Lutz bulled straight ahead from the 3 for a 14-0 lead.
Surely now Strasburg’s powerful running game would do something. It did. The Rams hammered away on a 72-yard drive and pulled to 14-8 on Bradley Cook’s 12-yard run with 2:16 left in the half.
Surely the Rams would continue to drive the ball in the second half.
But Stonewall’s small, quick defense was always in the way, tripping up backs when they seemed ready to break into the open and forcing two important fumbles.
“The defense we used the last game against them I didn’t feel comfortable with,” said Lutz, who plays linebacker. “We changed because of their offense and it didn’t work. We came back to the real one tonight.”
The Rams were eager in the second half to build on the momentum their touchdown gave them. Mason, who fumbled twice, got one back when he knocked the ball loose from Cook on the second play of the second half.
Eventually Strasburg had to turn to the pass and with five minutes left, the Generals made the plays that iced the game.
Strasburg quarterback David Hamrick was looking for a receiver. He never saw Stonewall lineman Stanley Ryan, who stripped the ball from Hamrick’s right hand. Matt Burner recovered the fumble for Stonewall at Strasburg’s 29.
The Generals were soon trying to sneak Lutz for a first down, but he fumbled. The ball laid on the ground and the whistle didn’t blow. The only player who noticed was Rios. He picked it up and was suddenly running 20 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown and a 21-8 lead.
“I didn’t hear no whistle so I just picked it up,” said Rios, who gained 108 yards on 12 carries. “It was like a miracle.”
Beating Strasburg on its field with so much at stake seemed miraculous in itself. Proctor believed this year’s team was the one that would finally win the Rams’ first state championship. Four times before, including last year, Proctor has been there, only to lose. Some of his seniors kneeled on the field for several minutes after the game 50 yards from Stonewall’s celebration. The last few to leave the locker room after the game were seniors. The reddest eyes belonged to seniors.
“I feel really sad for our seniors,” Proctor said. “They are such an outstanding class.”
There will not be much consolation in this loss for the Rams, if any. But Stonewall knows how difficult this game was to win.
“It’s the hardest game I’ve played in my entire life,” Stonewall senior lineman Jon Ford said. “But I would not have had it any other way.”
By the time the Generals finally made it back to their locker room, Krol was still positively punchy, almost in disbelief over what he had just seen.
“Yes and no,” he said when asked if he thought his team could really beat Strasburg. “By all that’s right and true, probably not. But to be honest, I believed we could do it if we played hard.”