STRASBURG — Strasburg head football coach Mark Roller cautioned his team about a potential letdown on homecoming night against Page County on Friday. He’d say afterward that the Rams simply got outplayed.
The upstart Panthers, who haven’t had a winning season since the 1990s, went into Ram Stadium on Friday night and pulled out a 21-14 Bull Run District win, knocking off a previously unbeaten Strasburg team that has aspirations of winning a district title.
It was Page County’s first win over Strasburg since 2005 and one of the biggest victories for the program in recent years, said head coach Joey Soltis, who’s team also knocked off Wilson Memorial two weeks ago and improved to 3-1 overall (1-1 Bull Run) with Friday’s triumph.
“I don’t want to say this,” Panthers senior receiver/defensive back Trevor Williams said, “but a lot of people around the valley and everything don’t really respect Page football. They don’t think we’re that good or anything, but we’re trying to come out this year and show them we’ve got a team this year that can battle for a Bull Run District championship.”
Page County, which dropped its Bull Run opener to rival Luray in Week 4, looked the part of district contender on Friday night, and Roller said after the loss that he felt the Rams got pushed around a little bit by a physical Panthers squad.
Page County’s wishbone offense finished with 314 total yards, including 223 yards rushing on 57 carries, while the defense held Strasburg (3-1, 0-1) to 240 total yards and just 2.9 yards per rush.
Panthers senior running back Mikey Cash did most of the heavy lifting for Page County’s offense and carried 26 times for 127 yards, while quarterback Trey Knight scored a pair of rushing touchdowns.
The Rams turned the ball over on their final three possessions of the game, the first turnover setting up Page County’s go-ahead touchdown drive that broke a 14-all tie with 6:11 to play.
“They wanted it more than we did,” Roller said. “We came out and turned the ball over a couple times, missed blocking assignments or got penalized on a good run. You can’t do those types of things and still expect to win.”
Strasburg trailed 14-6 at halftime but knotted the score with a third-quarter touchdown drive that ended with senior quarterback Chase Hart’s 25-yard TD toss to classmate Bradley Ferrell. Hart initially began scrambling before firing a pass to Ferrell, who tiptoed down the sideline and into the end zone. Hart’s 2-point conversion pass sailed through the arms of a Page County defender and was caught by Strasburg’s Trey Stinnette to tie the game at 14-all.
Page County, which averaged 4.2 yards per carry (excluding a trio of kneel-downs to end the game), went on the move on its next possession but turned the ball over on downs at the Strasburg 30 after Rams linebacker Justin Day dropped Knight for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-1.
The Rams then drove to midfield but fumbled the quarterback-center exchange on a first-down play, and Page County’s Tristan Gordon recovered at the Panthers’ 49-yard line.
Page County converted two third downs on its next drive on passes from Knight to Williams (three receptions, 67 yards), and Cash’s 17-yard run right through the heart of Strasburg’s defense set up Knight’s 3-yard touchdown run that put Page up 21-14.
Hart, who has committed to William & Mary, threw an interception on Strasburg’s next drive, and another fumbled snap ended the Rams’ final possession of the night at the Page County 33 with 1:49 to play.
“Those are things you just can’t afford to happen and still be able to win,” said Roller, whose team also was penalized seven times for 60 yards. “I think we had three turnovers and they had none. That’s been our nemesis so far. We’ve been able to get away with it, the turnovers, but tonight it caught up to us.”
Strasburg scored the first points when it followed a fourth-down stop at its own 20 with a 13-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Hart’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Trevor Sager with 23 seconds left in the first quarter.
Page County answered with another long drive on its second possession, this time finishing off the 81-yard march with Knight’s 2-yard touchdown run that he set up with his 21-yard scamper the play before.
The Panthers scored again right before the half when Williams’ 37-yard punt return set up his 39-yard touchdown reception from Blake Turpen on a running back pass that fooled Strasburg’s defense and left Williams wide open down the sideline.
“They’re a good football team but we’re a good football team, too,” said Soltis, who guided the Panthers to four wins in 2018, the most Page County’s had in a season since matching that total in 2005. “We’ve been down for a little bit but that’s not who we are. I think we’re a good, tough, physical team.”
Strasburg, a run-first team that operates primarily out of the T-formation this season, finished with just 92 yards rushing on 32 carries and was forced into more spread formations on Friday night. Page County also sacked Hart three times and harassed the Ram quarterback on nearly every dropback.
“Our defense did a heckuva job,” Soltis said. “We managed to stall ourselves a little bit on some of the offensive series. Wish we’d have gotten another one of them in for a touchdown but the defense, the kids just stepped up and made plays. Coach (James) May, our defensive coordinator, he did a nice job with our substitution packages and really matched up well with them.”
Hart, who was hurt by a handful of drops, completed 13 of 22 passes for 148 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, and Sager had 99 yards of total offense (55 receiving, 54 rushing) for the Rams.
Strasburg will try to bounce back this week on the road against Rappahannock County, which was beaten by Stonewall Jackson 31-0 on Friday to end the Generals’ 41-game losing streak.
“We’ve just got to regroup,” Roller said. “I guess you can look at it as you got a loss out of the way and you don’t have to worry about thinking (about staying unbeaten) if you’re later on the down the road. But I think we’ve got to regroup, come back and take care of business next week and hope this doesn’t come back to haunt us.”