Strasburg football wins top-5 1A matchup with Burlington as defense, JC Spence star

JC Spence Strasburg football

(Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

STRASBURG — Missing its starting quarterback due to injury, top-ranked Strasburg gave the reigns to JC Spence. And, boy, did he deliver.

Of course, the defense also played a major role as No. 1 Strasburg won a top-5 matchup in Class 1A against No. 3 Burlington on Friday night, 13-6.

Spence rushed for a touchdown and threw another, and also picked up two key first downs on a clock-killing drive that sealed the win in the fourth quarter.

A number of crucial moments Friday came after the play broke down and Spence made something out of nothing.

"He can make things happen," Strasburg coach Jeff Giger said of Spence. "He's definitely our playmaker, and a very, very smart kid, very savvy kid, when it comes to just athletics in general.

"It's a strength of his," Giger added. "When things break down, we almost kind of get a little more excited because we think something is going to happen for him."

Spence rushed for 215 yards, and threw for another 88. He also returned a few punts, and played defense.

Expected to be the team's starting running back this season, Spence shifted to starting quarterback this week due to an injury to sophomore Collin Russell. Russell broke his collarbone and is expected to miss at least a few more weeks, Giger said.

"We were very excited about him," Giger said of Russell. "A great young man, and worked so hard to step into the shoes, but it's unfortunate for him."

Spence did see time at quarterback last season, throwing for 383 yards and a touchdown. That experience seemed to help on Friday.

"We've always kind of sprinkled him in here and there," Giger said. "He's kind of always been the jack of all trades for a while. Never been a full quarterback. But we've always worked him there, so it's not completely new to him."

Said Spence: "I just came out ready to play with my boys."

Strasburg's offense struggled in the first half, though, against a tough Burlington defense. The Cougars forced three turnovers — two fumbles and an interception — but Strasburg's defense was equal to the task.

Twice in the half, Strasburg forced Burlington to turn it over on downs. Another time, they forced a punt.

Strasburg allowed just one touchdown, and forced Burlington to go 1-of-7 on third down conversions, and 1-of-3 on fourth down. In the second half, Strasburg limited Burlington to one first down.

"Defensively is where we really feel like we can hang our hat this year," Giger said.

After some encouragement from the coaching staff at halftime — "Our coach came in and told us a few things, got a little upset, so we listened to that," Spence said — Strasburg opened the third quarter with a nine-minute, 14-second scoring drive. It was capped by Spence's 18-yard touchdown pass to Tarek Robinson.

"It's fun controlling the ball," Spence said. "We went all the way down the field. We had it the whole time. That's what coach wanted, so we took our time."

Added Giger of that drive: "It was everything. I felt like our sideline was very energetic through that process. It just kind of picked us up, made them believe that they can go score again. And then the defense, obviously kind of took that momentum and put it on the field. It felt like we were flying around and getting off the field."

Strasburg Burlington football

(Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

Burlington didn't go quietly into the night, and had a big screen play that moved the ball to the Strasburg 38, but again the defense held firm.

A final drive from Strasburg, which included two big runs from Spence on back-to-back third downs, killed the remaining clock.

Burlington's Braden Witzel threw for 126 yards, and also had a rushing touchdown.

Strasburg (2-0) will face nearby rival Bennett next week, while Burlington (0-1) travels to Ellicott.