STRASBURG — Minutes before he jogged back toward Strasburg’s locker room through a tunnel of schoolmates chanting “D1,” Rams senior quarterback Chase Hart looked toward a crowd of purple-clad fans massing on the hill beside the home-team bleachers at Ram Stadium following Friday’s win over Central.
“You see how many people came out here tonight to support us,” said Hart, who has committed to William & Mary. “We gave them what they wanted.”
It was what the Rams desperately wanted, too.
History had not been kind to Strasburg in its annual matchup with its Shenandoah County rival over the past 15 seasons. The last Ram victory over Central came in 2016, when most of Strasburg’s current players weren’t on the varsity roster. Not since 2007 had Strasburg celebrated a win over the Falcons on its home field.
Needless to say, Friday’s 20-10 victory was a big one, particularly for Strasburg’s seniors.
“At the end right there, I just broke down,” Rams senior running back/safety Trevor Sager said. “There was nothing else I could do. It was so emotional and so exciting to see all the seniors … and all the people that have been with me throughout this whole thing, it’s just moving. I don’t know what to say about it, it’s just amazing,”
The game began as a defensive struggle, one that left Strasburg’s offense frustrated after a scoreless first half that included a pair of costly Ram fumbles in plus territory, including one that Central recovered in the end zone to halt a would-be scoring drive in the first quarter. But the Rams scored on their first three possessions of the second half (they ran the clock out on their fourth) and their defense stayed stout throughout.
Strasburg senior two-way lineman Kane Palmer said head coach Mark Roller was intense at halftime. Hart, who scored two rushing touchdowns after the break, called the coach’s halftime message a verbal “butt-whooping.” It did the trick.
“It was just a matter of challenging, and they stepped up to that challenge,” Roller said. “It’s like I’ve told them every time, we have potential. The potential’s there but we’ve got to prove that potential. They went out and proved it tonight.”
The Rams’ defense, which held Central to 132 total yards (and 53 in the first half), stood tall on a crucial drive to start the third quarter, setting in motion Strasburg’s second-half resurgence.
Needing a spark, the Falcons (2-2) got one with some trickery on the second-half kickoff, as Landon Shockey took a handoff from Kamren Wells during the return and raced to the Strasburg 37-yard line.
Central would eventually reach the 1, but on third-and-goal coming out of a timeout, the Falcons tried running quarterback Kelan Hoover around the left edge. Hoover was swallowed up for a 3-yard loss by a Ram charge led by senior linebacker Jalen Bray — who lost the first Strasburg fumble that Wells recovered in the end zone in the first quarter — and Central had to settle for Alex Lopez’s 21-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Falcons head coach Mike Yew said afterward he made a “terrible” call on the third-down play from the 1.
“I tried to get cute, we tried to run lead hoping they’d bite on it with the end and we’d go around the edge. It didn’t work,” Yew said. “That one’s on me and that’s why I feel bad about it, because I think on the kid’s part, if we stick it in and go up 7-nothing, maybe it’s a different feeling on both sidelines.”
Central’s field goal instead felt like a victory for a Ram defense tasked with defending a short field, and Strasburg’s offense followed with a nine-play, 63-yard touchdown drive that ended with Hart’s 16-yard scoring scamper with 2:09 left in the third quarter.
“I think at that point, that turned the light switch on for our kids and they really turned everything on from there on out,” Roller said.
Strasburg (3-0) forced a three-and-out on Central’s next possession and got its own big special teams play when Sager pushed a Falcon blocker into Hoover’s punt attempt, sending the ball twirling straight up in the air near the line of scrimmage. Palmer snatched the ball out of the air at the Central 38 and rumbled to the 5 before he was knocked out of bounds.
The Rams were back in the end zone three plays later on Hart’s 1-yard sneak, which gave Strasburg a 14-3 lead with 11:24 left.
Strasburg added the dagger on its next possession, a 7-yard Sager touchdown run that pushed the lead to 20-3 with 6:16 to play.
“We just wanted to get out here and get it done,” Palmer said. “We were tired of losing (to Central) for all this time, so we came out here and played our hearts out.”
Strasburg, running primarily out of the T-formation, finished with 234 total yards, 205 of which came on the ground. Sager and Da’Neil Holliday each had 54 yards rushing, while Bray added 42 yards and Hart 34.
The Rams’ offense seemed to hit another gear after halftime.
“They were running with a purpose,” Roller said of Strasburg’s running backs, “and I think we made some adjustments on the offensive line. Those guys don’t get a whole lot of credit, but Brandon (Swafford) and Patchrick (Kennedy) and Cam (Rutz) and Kane and Clayton (Lauer) and Bradley (Ferrell), we’ve got all them guys on the line now. They’ve done a good job and we’re just gonna keep getting better, I hope.”
Central managed just 90 yards rushing on 34 carries, a total hurt by three Strasburg sacks and bolstered by Shockey’s 32 yards on a pair of end-arounds on Central’s final drive of the game, the second of which went for a 15-yard touchdown with 2:50 left.
Chris Conner led the Falcons with 35 yards rushing, while Hoover completed just 6 of 15 passes for 42 yards.
Kennedy (1.5 sacks), Swafford (one) and Rutz (0.5) combined for the Rams’ three sacks.
Yew, whose Falcons next travel to Staunton, praised his team’s effort in the defeat.
“I am so proud of our kids for how hard they played and we continue to play,” he said. “We’re still a work in progress. We’re gonna get better every week, and tonight the scoreboard didn’t show it but we got better tonight. We’re gonna get better next week, we’re gonna get even better on our bye week, and by the time we get to Week 9 and 10 and hopefully ready for a playoff run, we’re gonna be playing our best football. You can count on that.”
Strasburg will host Page County in its Bull Run District opener this week seeking its first 4-0 start since 2012.
“It’s great for those guys to get that win,” Roller said. “It’s a big morale booster, and I don’t think the younger kids understand how big of a morale booster it is, but I think those seniors do know. You could see it in their faces.”