Game of the week: Warriors face off with Judges
Posted: October 12, 2012
WINCHESTER — It started off as a statement performance.
It ended as a head-shaker.
“I think about it every day,” Handley sophomore quarterback Will Dearing said. “It was a tough game, and it was hard to get over.”
Dearing is referring to last year’s Handley-Sherando game, one that the Judges led 14-0 at halftime but lost 20-17 in double overtime when the Warriors’ Joseph Ojo ran the ball in from 10 yards out on the final play of the game. Handley watched Sherando tie the game with just 1:14 left in regulation, then saw its hopes of winning in the first overtime vanquished when it missed a 32-yard field goal.
Though the loss dropped the Judges to 2-5, they were able to shake it off by winning their last three games to earn a share of the Northwestern District title and advance to the playoffs.
Naturally, the Judges — once again sitting at 2-4 overall as they head into their first district game — would rather not put themselves in that position again.
A win in Saturday’s 1 p.m. game at the Handley Bowl against Sherando (3-3, 1-0) would show that Handley not only has what it takes to make the playoffs — the Judges (17.0) currently sit in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Region II, Division 3 rankings, just one-tenth of a point ahead of Charlottesville (16.9) — but also what it takes to challenge for a fifth straight district title.
“It’s kind of a new season, and we get to start over,” Handley senior safety Andrew Lins said.
The Judges — who still lead the all-time series with the Warriors 11-7 despite seeing their three-game winning streak over Sherando snapped last year — and Warriors enter this game on the heels of two very different results. Sherando cruised to a 50-14 victory over James Wood, while the Judges lost 34-0 to Kettle Run.
Handley’s performance wasn’t as discouraging as the score implies, however.
The Cougars are the defending Region II, Division 3 champions, and they’re ranked fifth in the Group AA state Associated Press poll.
The Judges forced four turnovers in the first half against the Cougars, and after allowing a touchdown on Kettle Run’s opening possession, Handley surrendered just three points over the next 28 minutes.
“We made them earn everything they got,” Handley coach Tony Rayburn said. “I certainly don’t like the outcome, but I think we played with a lot of fight.”
Though Rayburn said Kettle Run make some clear mistakes on some turnovers, he said Lins made a great play on one interception in which he stepped in front of a receiver by the sideline.
The Judges hope they can continue to cause some problems with their 50 defense against Sherando, including the 3-2 look that the Warriors have not played against this season.
“They’re a fundamentally sound team,” Hall said. “They don’t do things to hurt themselves in terms of being out of position. Sometimes you can gain an advantage through formations or shifts, but they’re pretty solid in terms of how they line up.
“We’ve seen an odd stack, but this is the first time we’ve seen a true odd defense, which is a 3-2 box. It’s not too different from an odd stack though. They do some things with their outside linebackers, so we’ll be adjusting to how they’re playing us and what they’re trying to take away from us.”
Because the Warriors spread the field out so well, executing out of the 3-2 look could be key for Handley.
“[Sherando] has some really good playmakers, and obviously, it’s a huge challenge,” Rayburn said.
The Warriors — who also shared the district title last year — were at their best on offense in last week’s win over James Wood, rolling up 276 rushing yards and 243 passing yards.
Sherando quarterback Reid Entsminger had five total touchdowns, throwing for 243 yards and rushing for 55, while senior Taylor Loudan, the area’s leading rusher with 827 yards, compiled 188 rushing yards and 92 receiving yards.
No matter how well Handley plays on defense, the Judges know they have to pick it up on offense if they hope to pull out a win against Sherando, which is hoping to improve its own playoff positioning. The Warriors stand seventh in Region II, Division 4.
Kettle Run might be a good team, but Rayburn doesn’t want to use the Cougars’ talent as an excuse for his team’s performance.
“We feel like we can do better,” Rayburn said. “We’ve spent a lot of time watching film, trying to point out the different things we’re doing wrong. We feel like we’re close, but there’s just a thing here or there that we need to fix.”
Rayburn said No. 2 quarterback Nick Dempsey has been effective as a runner since he returned from injury, but Rayburn said he’s likely going to rely mainly on Dearing (47 of 104 for 600 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions) to run the offense.
“Sherando executes well, and we’ve got to be able to put some drives together,” Rayburn said. “We’ve just got to execute our offense. We’ve got to do well in the basics.”
The bottom line is that there usually isn’t much that separates these two teams. That’s why these teams look forward to their annual matchup, in addition to the fact that over the last decade one or the other always seems to win the district.
“We feel good about James Wood, but we’ve got to carry that momentum on to the next game,” Entsminger said. “We’ve got to come out with even more intensity, because Handley, they’re a good team, too. Hopefully it will turn out like last week. We’re going to play hard and hopefully get the ‘W.’”
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1