STRASBURG — A week ago, Luray was in control atop the Bull Run District with the end of the regular season fast approaching. Strasburg now has the chance to steal a home playoff game away from the Bulldogs.
Strasburg and Luray clash at Ram Stadium tonight in a battle of 7-2 teams that should carry plenty of playoff implications. Just over 1/10th of a point separated the Rams and the Bulldogs — the fourth and fifth teams, respectively, in the region — in the latest Region 2B power ratings, meaning tonight’s winner earns a first-round home game next week and the loser could very likely hit the road from the bottom half of the eight-team bracket.
Strasburg, depending on how the rest of tonight’s results shake out, could even climb further than its No. 4 spot with a win over Luray, which would bring in a hefty haul of power points. The Rams and Bulldogs, if there is minimal movement in the regional standings, could meet again next week in the postseason.
In addition to a home playoff game, Luray (7-2, 5-1 in the district) is playing for a Bull Run District title. Even the Rams (7-2, 4-2) have an outside shot to earn a share of the district crown, though that would also require a monumental upset by Rappahannock County over Clarke County.
“We are just preaching to our kids that we’ve just got to take care of our business and do the things that we’re doing and make sure that we play the way we’ve been taught to play this week and (the way we’ve been) coached up, and everything will take care of itself,” Rams head coach Mark Roller said on Wednesday.
Luray was in the driver’s seat in the district race until East Rockingham rose to the challenge and dismantled the Bulldogs to the tune of a 53-23 drubbing at James Madison University’s Bridgeforth Field in the Shenandoah Valley Football Classic on Saturday.
Roller, whose team had beaten a rebuilding East Rock team by 33 nearly a month ago, was as shocked as anyone by the result of last weekend’s game, not necessarily because the Eagles won but because of how dominant they looked doing it.
East Rockingham forced four Luray turnovers in the first half, cashing in frequently on the Bulldogs’ miscues and taking a comfortable 32-7 lead into halftime.
“They probably played their best game of the year against Luray and I think that’s the thing about football and high school football at that, is that they’re peaking at the right time,” Roller said of the Eagles. “And you start getting a few injuries — Luray’s got a few injuries and things don’t always go your way. And I think that kind of plays into what happens in your games.”
One of Luray’s biggest injuries this season, Roller said, came in the way of a broken leg suffered by 250-pound senior linebacker/offensive guard Patrick Porter. Roller added that Bulldogs running back Timmy Trudell — one of three backs that carry the load in Luray’s T-formation offense — went down with an injury last weekend, though he was unsure of the nature of injury.
Even if Trudell doesn’t play tonight, the Bulldogs have plenty of other offensive weapons and a recent history of beating up on the Rams. Two years ago, Luray pounded the Rams 41-14 in Strasburg, and last year the Bulldogs ran away with a 35-7 win in Week 2 of a season that saw them go 8-4 and win a playoff game.
“I think one, they’re pretty big up front and they always have been, and I think that wears and tears, especially early on in the season — when we’ve played them early in the season — not being in the condition that you need to be in,” Roller said. “But now here at the end of the year, it’ll be a little bit different story, I think. Our kids are in pretty good condition and they know what’s at stake. Early in the year there’s not much, besides it’s a game you’ve got to win and you want to win them all, but I think at the end of the year here we have a lot to play for. That’s big.”
Reversing their fortune against Luray will mean the Rams need to find a way to limit a running game that features three running backs with 350 or more yards this season. Austin Holloway, a 5-foot-8, 150-pound junior, leads that group of Bulldogs with over 1,300 yards.
In last year’s meeting, Holloway and Trudell each topped 100 yards rushing as Luray piled up 350 yards on the ground against the Rams. Holloway also returned a kickoff for a touchdown — one of two costly special teams blunders that helped sink the Rams — and Luray quarterback Dalton Griffith ran for a 54-yard score in that game.
“Holloway, he’s fast and I mean he gets lost in there with all them big guys, and all the sudden he pops out and boom, he’s by you before you know it. We’ve just got to contain him, make sure we do our reads and our keys,” said Roller, whose team is allowing just 12.9 points and 227.4 yards per game this season. “I think they’ll get some big runs but we’ve got to make sure that we don’t let them bust off the big one. And the quarterback does a good job of faking, so we’ve got to make sure that we keep him contained, too.”
Strasburg, which is averaging 33.9 points per game, also boasts a run-centric, T-formation offense led by its trio of senior running backs, Jalen Bray (503 yards rushing, nine touchdowns), Trevor Sager (391 yards, six TDs) and Da’Neil Holliday (366 yards, two TDs).
The Bulldogs are allowing 24.2 points per game this fall, a number boosted by a pair of shutouts against Rappahannock County and Stonewall, two teams who have struggled mightily to find much success on offense against anyone. Outside of those two games, Luray is allowing 31.1 points per contest.
The Rams have leaned heavily on their running game all season, but in last week’s 34-6 win over Stonewall Jackson they made a focused effort to do more in the passing game. Senior quarterback Chase Hart completed 8 of 15 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns against the Generals, bringing his season total to 718 passing yards and 10 TDs.
Roller said the added emphasis on the passing game last week was made in order to prepare the Rams to be more multidimensional with the playoffs approaching.
“That’s kind of what we were trying to do is fine-tune some things because we haven’t had to pass a whole lot and you’re gonna get into situations where you’re gonna have to do that a little bit,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that we knew what we were doing.”