QUICKSBURG — Stonewall Jackson head football coach Pete Lampman said the final game of any season can provide a little boost going into the next. With Stonewall outside of the Region 2B playoff picture, that’s what the Generals are playing for in their regular-season finale tonight.
Stonewall, which has already won multiple games in a season for the first time since 2012, will travel to Page County trying to play the spoiler against a Panthers squad that has dug itself out of its own dark times with a resurgent 2019 campaign.
“This is a chance for us to compete well and play and try to pull off an upset and get a third win in a season where we’ve got a couple,” Lampman said earlier this week, “really make it something worth remembering.”
Formerly the only team that Stonewall could beat in the mid-2010s, Page County (6-3, 3-3 Bull Run District) has flipped the script in this matchup and owns a three-game winning streak over the Generals (2-7, 2-4).
This year’s Panthers are enjoying their best season in nearly three decades, having clinched their first winning season since 1993 and set to make their first playoff appearance since that same year. Page County’s three losses this season — to Luray, East Rockingham and Clarke County — came against teams that are a combined 19-8 and in the top six in the latest Region 2B playoff ratings.
The Panthers enter tonight’s regular-season finale in seventh place in the Region 2B playoff race (the top eight make the field), 1.5 points behind sixth-place East Rock and 1.6 points ahead of eighth-place Buffalo Gap.
Stonewall carries a three-game losing streak into tonight’s matchup, while Page County has played two different types of games — with split results — over the past two weeks. On Oct. 25, the Panthers smacked a one-win Madison County squad, 82-52, in the sixth-highest scoring game in Virginia High School League history. Last week the Panthers tangled with Clarke County and lost a 10-7 game in Berryville.
“They’ve got a pretty good squad,” Lampman said. “It’s been odd, the last two films I watched an 82-52 game and I watched a 10-7 game, against two teams of vastly different talent levels. So they’re a conundrum, but they are the same crew they’ve been the last couple years. They’ve got some good senior leadership, they play hard from start to finish, they’ll come off the ball and knock you in the mouth, and if you don’t respond they’ll wipe you off the field.”
Stonewall’s recent struggles continued with last week’s 34-6 loss to county rival Strasburg, but Lampman said effort hasn’t been an issue for the Generals all season long, and the message heading into the regular-season finale remains the same: play hard.
“They have done it all year and we want to keep doing that,” he said, “and go out there expecting to win the ballgame.”
Lampman said he was once again pleased with the performance of his defense last week (the Generals held Strasburg to 270 yards) but missed tackles remained a problem.
A Stonewall team that is allowing 38.3 points per game this fall now draws a Page County offense that is scoring 38.7 points per contest. The Panthers, who run out of the wishbone formation, are led on the ground by running backs Mikey Cash and Blake Turpen, with Cash closing in on 1,000 yards rushing for the season.
Lampman said while the Panthers do run the option, they lean primarily on a running game that features a lot of power and counters.
“Same thing we used to run, so we’ve got to make sure that you’ve got somebody assigned to the fullback, somebody assigned to the quarterback, pitch man,” Lampman said. “They don’t run a ton of option but they run enough that we’ve got to be ready for it. Basically with us, it’s about playing the key that you’ve been taught, being aggressive, getting penetration and making tackles.”
Stonewall, itself an option team for most of the season, switched to the power-I last week in a search for more consistency on offense. The Generals entered last week’s game having been shut out in back-to-back losses to Luray and Clarke County and only just missed making it 12 straight scoreless quarters with Jacob Lemon’s touchdown pass to Jacob Stephens on the game’s final play against Strasburg.
The Generals finished with 180 yards against the Rams, including 119 on the ground, and attempted 11 passes, a high number for an offense accustomed to running the triple-option.
“I think they did pretty well considering we really just put it in that week,” Lampman said of the debut of power-I. “We only had three negative runs. We need to throw the ball a little better out of it, but for having only put it in for a week, I thought we ran it pretty well.”
Page County enters the game allowing 20 points per game and is coming off a defensive effort in which it held Clarke County’s single-wing offense to its second-lowest scoring output of the season.
“I would like to see a little bit more of what we did Friday night,” Lampman said, “which is no negative runs, moving the ball but then finishing our play, finishing our run, getting that extra yard or two and then making the right read, running backs making the right read and cutting to the right hole.
“We want to have a chance to go out here and get some momentum for next year, go out on top and pick off a win, and pick off a team that we haven’t beaten in a few years,” Lampman added. “Quite frankly, it’s kind of a rivalry game for us, and for them as well.”