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Unbeaten Falcons enter playoffs Friday

No. 2 seed Central to host Buffalo Gap in first round
Posted 2017-11-16 By Larry Beazley

    Central’s undefeated football Falcons Friday will begin what they hope will be a four-game slog to the school’s first state football championship.

    The Falcons (10-0), regular season champions of the Bull Run District, will host Buffalo Gap High School in the first round of the Virginia High School League Class 2 Region B post season tournament.

    Game time is 7 p.m.

    Based on strength of schedule, Central is ranked No. 2 in the region, Buffalo Gap No. 7. Central is ranked No. 1 in state power rankings in its class.

    Thus far, the Falcons have scarcely been challenged.

    Through the regular season, they averaged 55.5 points a game while giving up fewer than eight.

    Central quarterback Zeb Dyer has completed 48 of 66 passes for 1,147 yards and 17 touchdowns.  Twenty of those completions went to speedster Kyle Clanton for 574 yards and nine touchdowns.  Varsey Bright has 14 receptions for 353 yards and four touchdowns, and Bryan Davis has been on the receiving end of six for 109 yards and three touchdowns.

    The Falcons’ ground attack, led by Shane Watson, has gained 1,120 yards on 126 carries for 16 touchdowns.  Hunter Mullins gained 646 yards and scored seven touchdowns on 88 carries. Clanton carried the ball 24 times for 301 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Chris Conner gained 174 yards and scored five touchdowns. Bright added 144 yards and three touchdowns.

    The offensive line of Declan Franklin, Jacob France, Ezra Smith, Connor Funk and Grayson Manning, and those who play those positions in reserve, has protected Dyer and opened gaping holes for running backs all season.

     On defense, Bright leads the team with 10 interceptions and 23 tackles.  Adding to the depth are Dean Woodwell, 40 tackles with nine sacks; Franklin, 61 tackles and seven sacks; Davis 56 tackles and three sacks; Zach Adams, 68 tackles, two sacks and one interception; Nick Houghton, 29 tackles and two interceptions, and Clanton, 35 tackles and an interception.

    Kicker Andrew Miller has made 65 extra points and two field goals.  Kickoff return specialist Clanton has four returns for 246 yards and two touchdowns and has returned 12 punts for 354 yards and three touchdowns. Bright has five kickoff returns for 138 yards and five punt returns for 194 yards and two touchdowns.

    Clanton leads the Falcons in scoring with 158 points including 26 touchdowns and two-point conversions.  Watson has 92 points on 16 touchdowns and a two-point conversion, and Miller has 71 points with 65 extra points and two field goals. Bright has scored nine touchdowns for 54 points, and Davis and Mullins have seven each for 42 points.

    Buffalo Gap (6-4) should not be taken lightly.

    The Bison compete in a tough Shenandoah District, and all four of their losses have come against playoff teams.

    The Bison had 10-point losses to both Luray and Riverheads, a four-point loss to Robert E. Lee and a three-point loss to East Rockingham.

    Bison quarterback Dylan Rankin leads the team on offense.  He has a strong arm and will throw deep, especially when least expected.

    Buffalo Gap’s offensive formation is constantly shifting.  McKenzie Hamic shares time at quarterback and is the team’s leading rusher.

    Jay Johnston and speedster Josh Red run wide on sweeps, while Dylan Thompson mainly runs between tackles.

    The offensive and defensive lines have good size.

    Junior Parker Hoke handles the kicking game, and Hamic is a dangerous kick returner.

    Based on speed and versatility, Central will be favored to win and advance to the second round to play either Robert E. Lee of Staunton or George Mason of Falls Church. Central beat Mason handily earlier in the season.

    Central’s first undefeated football season in school history could not have come against a better opponent or in a better venue.

    The Falcons did it Friday night against long-time rival Strasburg at Ram Stadium. It was not the game some thought it would be.

    Central’s offensive speed and power and its stingy defense were simply too much for the Rams. Central won it, 42-6, and it could have been worse.

    Ironically, though the Falcons ran roughshod over opponents all season and ranked No. 1 in Virginia 2A power ratings a week ago, they will enter the post season seeded No. 2.

    The No. 1 seed will go to Clarke County, a team Central beat earlier in the season on the road, 40-0. The experts say Clarke played a tougher schedule.

    Though it finished the season with a 5-5 record, Strasburg is seeded No. 8 for the post-season, and will play at No. 1 seed Clarke County Friday.

    The winner of that game will get either Luray or East Rockingham.

    Should Central and Clarke both advance to the championship in the East bracket, the Falcons would be forced to travel to Berryville.

    The Falcons scored twice in the first quarter Friday night at Strasburg and had built a 35-6 lead at the half.

    Early in the third period, Central extended its lead to 42-6, prompting officials to allow the clock to run continuously through the remainder of the second half. Even if Strasburg’s most loyal fans were not convinced it was over, the officials were.

    Central coach Mike Yew had begun to empty his bench, but even against the Falcons’ reserves the Rams were unable to score.

    Central scored six times and kicking specialist Austin Miller made all extra points attempts. It was, essentially, a near flawless performance on offense and defense.

    The Falcons’ only turnover, a fumble inside the Strasburg 20-yard line in the first quarter, resulted in the Rams’ only touchdown, a three-yard pass from running back Austin Miller to Stephen Kloosterman.

    A running attempt for the two-point conversion failed.

    Central running back Shane Watson scored the game’s first TD early, plowing over from a yard out to end a five-play series.

    Minutes later, the Falcons’ Kyle Clanton swept into the end zone from the seven capping a seven-play drive.

    Watson broke loose early in the second period on a 41-yard jaunt to the goal line on only the second play of a Central drive, before the Falcons’ Varsey Bright scored twice, first on a 45-yard run and then on a 12-yard pass from quarterback Zeb Dyer.

    Central began its next drive early in the third quarter. Six plays in, Hunter Mullins found an opening and went 29 yards for a TD.

    Central dominated play on both sides of the ball throughout the game. Strasburg was hobbled by injuries to at least two linemen who did not play.

    Strasburg’s Austin Miller, the Rams’ offensive workhorse all season, was held to just 25 yards, well below his average.

    Central’s Watson carried the ball 15 times for 123 yards.

    Strasburg’s sophomore quarterback Chase Hart connected on 12 of 21 passes for 140 yards. His leading receiver, Grant Scott, had four catches for 71 yards.

    While Central was burnishing its resume, the Falcons’ post-season seeding was being determined in nearby Front Royal.

    In a rivalry game there, Warren County High came from behind to defeat Skyline, 22-21 in the last minute of play. Had Skyline won, Central somehow might have been seeded No. 1.

    Central’s first perfect regular season came 58 years after the school’s 1959 opening. Its previous best season occurred in 1964 when the Falcons went 9-1.