STRASBURG — After his team dropped its Bull Run District opener to an upstart Page County team last week, Strasburg head football coach Mark Roller said the Rams needed to make sure the loss didn’t come back to haunt them.
A potential get-right game now stands in front of Strasburg, which travels to Rappahannock County tonight take on a Panthers team that historically hasn’t fared well against the Rams.
Friday night’s district matchup is one that should heavily favor the Rams. Not only does Strasburg (3-1, 0-1 Bull Run), a team with district title aspirations, need a win to get back on track and avoid an 0-2 start in the Bull Run, but Roller said his team’s ability to look good while doing it would be a telltale sign of “what our team is like.”
“You always see what someone’s made of when you’re against adversity,” Rams junior lineman Camren Rutz said on Tuesday of Strasburg’s chance to respond to its first loss of the season. “It’ll show what we’re made of.”
Strasburg has outscored Rappahannock County 80-6 over the previous two seasons, including a 54-6 drubbing last year in a game that was moved from Strasburg to Rappahannock’s home field and was played on a Wednesday night due to poor field conditions and the threat of more bad weather.
The Panthers (1-3, 0-1), the only Class 1 team in the Bull Run, limp into this year’s matchup off last week’s 31-0 district loss to Stonewall Jackson, which ended the Generals’ 41-game losing streak.
Fear of potentially overlooking Rapp might be a concern for Strasburg, but senior running back/linebacker Da’Neil Holliday said the Rams found out the hard way last week what happens when that occurs. Page County, like Rappahannock County, has had its own demons against Strasburg but knocked off the Rams on homecoming night for a 21-14 win last week.
“I think that loss Friday kind of opened our eyes and showed us we actually need to step up, take every game seriously,” Holliday said. “We thought ‘All right, (it’s) Page, we’re just gonna go in there and just win.’ It didn’t end up happening like that. We’ve just got to focus.”
Doing so might be a bit easier for the Rams than it was the previous two weeks, which included an emotional win over county rival Central in Week 4 prior to last week’s homecoming game. Strasburg, favored by many outsiders in both contests, started slowly both times and has scored just six points in the first half over the last two games.
Rutz said maybe the Rams were too “high-strung” given the circumstances surrounding the last two games, and Holliday expressed a similar thought on Tuesday.
“I feel like the hype got to our heads because we had Central and right after that homecoming week and there’s a lot going on. I think we weren’t really as focused as we (should’ve been),” Holliday said. “I just think we should focus more on the task at hand, coming out strong and see how good we can be, see how much we improve.”
Ball security, an area in which Strasburg has struggled in recent weeks, is a top priority for the Rams heading into Week 6. Strasburg has seven turnovers over the last three games and is minus-five in turnover margin over the last two contests.
The Rams turned the ball over three times — on two fumbled snaps and an interception by senior quarterback Chase Hart — on their final three possessions against Page County last week, the final fumble coming inside the Panthers’ 35-yard line as Strasburg tried to put the game-tying drive together in the final minutes.
Strasburg is averaging 266.8 yards per game in its run-heavy offense but mustered just 92 yards rushing on 32 carries last week against Page County. The Rams should be able to move the ball against a Rapp squad that allowed 212 yards and 31 points to a Stonewall team that had scored 83 points in its previous 14 games, provided they can take care of the football.
“You’ve just got to have a lot of reps,” Roller said of correcting Strasburg’s problems with ball security. “Two of them were quarterback-center exchanges. I don’t know if that even has happened all season up until that point. And of course Chase’s interception, he underthrew the ball a little bit. I’m not worried about that. But I am worried about the quarterback-center exchange. We just have to rep it and just keep repping it until we get things right.”
Offensively, Rappahannock County struggled to sustain drives against Stonewall and finished with just 44 yards and four turnovers in last week’s loss.
Strasburg is allowing 235 yards per game this season, and though the Rams were stout defensively against Central two weeks ago, they don’t have a takeaway since forcing three in a win at George Mason on Sept. 6.
Roller said the Panthers operate out of a pro set offensively and run a lot of power, dives, quick pitches and tosses.
“We have to take care of ourselves and we’ve got to do the things we’re able to do and not worry about what other teams dictate to us,” Roller said. “We’ve got to take care of business.”