Handley trio of Dearing, Washington and Mauck are putting up stats and points in bunches
WINCHESTER — As Handley assistant football coach Michael Partlow made his way back to the locker room following Tuesday’s practice, he told a group of three players, “I just gave some great quotes about you guys, so don’t screw this [interview] up.”
Partlow said this with a smile, and of course, there really was no need to worry. As this football season has shown, juniors Will Dearing, Justin Washington and Dontae Mauck are some pretty good options if you’re looking for a reliable performance.
The trio of the quarterback Dearing and the wide receivers Washington and Mauck have helped lead a Handley passing attack that has been nothing short of prolific this year.
In just four games, Dearing has thrown for 1,108 yards, an average of 277 per game, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions while completing 60 of 102 passes (59 percent) to lead Handley to a scoring average of 45.3 points per game.
To put that in perspective, Dearing is on pace to throw for 500 more yards and six more touchdowns in 10 games than former Sherando quarterback Ross Metheny — now starting at the University of South Alabama and formerly of the University of Virginia — did in 14 games in 2007, when Metheny threw for 2,207 yards and 24 touchdowns.
To be fair, Metheny only averaged 16.8 passes per game that year for a team that went 13-1, and Dearing is throwing the ball 25 times per game.
But with the amount of success the 3-1 Judges have had so far, why wouldn’t they want to be put it up as much as they do?
Especially when you have athletes like the 6-foot-4, 195-pound Washington (22 catches for 491 yards and six touchdowns) and the 5-foot-11, 160-pound Mauck (22, 410, 4). The cousins led Handley’s 4x100-meter and 4x400-meter teams to third- and fifth-place finishes, respectively, in the state during the spring.
“When we’re winning, it’s fun [to play in this offense],” Dearing said.
The Judges did not have as much fun last week in a 63-28 loss to Eastern View.
But with three wins — including a school-record 456-yard day from Dearing in the season opener in which he threw a touchdown pass to Washington (183 yards) and two to Mauck (208 yards) to help Handley rally from a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Liberty 45-42 — they’ve already matched last year’s total.
That’s thanks in large part to an offense that’s putting up passing yardage that’s reminiscent of Partlow’s heyday.
As a Handley senior in 1994, Partlow recorded 1,871 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns while playing with his twin brother Michael, who threw for 3,014 yards and 38 touchdowns that year. For their careers, Brian had 6,212 yards and 69 touchdowns passing and Michael had 3,312 yards and 46 touchdowns receiving.
As successful as Handley’s passing attack was back then though, Partlow said it was a lot easier for the Judges to exploit opposing defenses when he was a player.
Partlow said back then, he frequently could just take advantage of one-on-one matchups on the outside, and Handley didn’t even necessarily have to throw that much to put up big yardage numbers. And while the Judges’ spread offense is in the shotgun about 80 percent of the time now, Partlow said Handley was usually under center when he played and didn’t have to use as many formations or personnel packages as they do currently.
“We put a lot more on these kids now than what was put on us in the early ’90s,” said Partlow, a second-year assistant who worked mostly with the wide receivers last year but is now taking an active role tutoring Dearing this season. “The defenses have progressed so much since I played. Back then, they were more vanilla.
“Now, we’ve got to do a lot more reads, we’ve got a lot more route combinations, a lot more things that we’re looking at pre-snap, a lot more adjustments in the routes. For the past two weeks we’ve seen defenses that have changed how they’ve played us, moved guys around. They’ll sometimes double, sometimes don’t, sometimes kick linebackers out to help. They’ve gotten a lot better at rerouting crossing routes or vertical routes with safeties behind them.”
Basically, you need guys who know what they’re doing to be successful, and Dearing, Washington and Mauck — who played their first year together as eighth-graders on Handley’s freshman football team — have continuously made opponents pay.
It started at the end of last season, when Partlow said Handley “let [Dearing] loose” for the final three games and he threw for 938 yards and six touchdowns.
Washington has been a menace to opposing defenses every since the start of his freshman year — (he had 21 catches for 288 yards and two touchdowns before making 45 catches for 630 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore) — but the first game of a season-ending three-game stretch was when Mauck truly emerged as a receiving threat with seven catches for 82 yards. Prior to that game, Mauck had mostly played tailback.
As a result of that stretch, Handley had a pretty good idea of what it had coming into the season.
Each of the three worked on their games at various camps in the offseason — for example, Dearing went to one at James Madison, and Washington and Mauck went to one at West Virginia University — and they’ve applied what they learned to establish even better connections with each other on the field.
Dearing — who has usually received excellent protection from senior guards Jordan Dowrey junior center Cole Daylor, senior guard Zahrain Washington, senior tackles Troy Bergin and Clif Ambers and multi-dimensional reserve Noah Climer — gives Partlow a lot of credit for helping him develop his game.
“What Will’s done over the past couple of years is really gained a feeling for the game and an understanding of what defenses are trying to do against him,” Partlow said. “As he’s progressed, it’s more of him understanding what’s happening on the field, seeing things that happen before they happen and being able to predict where folks are going to be, and getting the ball out of his hands.
“That’s the thing he’s done really well this year. When we’re successful, it’s when he understands what’s happening on the field and is able to get the ball out of his hands.”
Over the years, the three-year starter Dearing has usually gone to Washington, who often faces double and triple teams, taking on Cover-2 defenses with a safety playing over the top.
“Justin’s always been explosive, and to his credit he’s still had a lot of big games despite the attention,” Handley coach Tony Rayburn said.
At Washington’s current pace of 123 yards per game, he’ll set the record for most receiving yards by an area wide receiver in this century (Handley’s Adam Dutton had 1,111 yards in 2000).
Though the types of coverages haven’t changed much since last year, Mauck’s play on the field — mostly out of the slot — is allowing Washington to make more plays because he’s someone else Dearing can go to keep drives alive. Jarett Cestaro, Brian Thomas and Jason Morgan are other players who have been featured in Handley’s four-wide receiver sets.
“When they key on Justin, that’s when you can look to other people,” Dearing said. “If they try to take away Dontae, you can go over to Justin. It’s back and forth.”
Never was that more on display than against Liberty, when it seemed as if a Judges team that trailed 35-14 at the half and 42-21 after three quarters was finished.
“I was proud that day,” Mauck said. “Everyone doubted us, and I know a couple people afterward told us they left the game because they thought we were going to lose.”
Technically, there’s a lot of things that factor into the numbers that the Dearing, Washington and Mauck are putting up. But in Dearing’s eyes, the fight showed that day is an example that definitely stands out above the rest and in helping their chemistry.
“I think we all want to accomplish the same thing and go out and just win every game we can,” Dearing said. “I think that gives us the drive to put up numbers.”
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at email@example.comFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1