Hand-JW Butler

Handley quarterback Davion Butler and running back Stephen Daley will be key components for the Judges’ offense in today’s Region 4C quarterfinal against Loudoun County this afternoon at James R. Wilkins Jr. Stadium.

The Handley football team is making its third straight regional playoff appearance this afternoon as the Judges host Loudoun County at James R. Wilkins Stadium.

For a program that was 0-10 in 2015, the turnaround has been quite an achievement.

But something is still missing — a postseason win.

The Judges haven’t won a playoff game in more than a decade. Getting a playoff win, especially against a tough opponent from the Dulles District, would be a big check mark on Handley’s list of goals.

“For our program it would be huge,” Handley coach Dan Jones said. “For our seniors, it’s more satisfaction for them to finish in a sense of what they started. They make that next step and hopefully we move forward from there. For our program it’s big to take that next step and show that our hard work pays off.”

The Judges’ current seniors lost a tough 13-9 decision to Loudoun Valley in 2019 and fell 56-0 against Tuscarora this past spring. Jones hopes his players have gained from those previous appearances.

“You have got to get there to learn how to respond, how to prepare and how to do things,” Jones said. “Hopefully, the third time is a charm.”

Handley will face a Loudoun County squad which missed the playoffs in the spring season (limited to two Dulles teams), but made playoff appearances in 2019 and 2018.

The Captains are led by dangerous quarterback Jimmy Daughtrey, who can beat you with his legs and his arm. Millbrook saw that early in the season as Daughtrey ran for three scores and passed for three TDs in a 48-19 win.

“He might be the best runner on the field for them,” Jones said of Daughtrey, who has rushed for 15 TDs on the season. “Their other running back [Jason Murray] is good, but [Daughtrey] does a great job of carrying out his fakes and reading the RPO’s (run-pass options) and zone reads. When he gets downhill, he’s a tough kid to tackle.”

Facing a quarterback that can run will present a challenge for the Handley defense, led by end Stephen Daley (76 tackles, 13 sacks, 24 tackles for losses), tackle Rodd’ney Davenport (75 tackles, 7 sacks, 18 tackles for losses) and linebacker Alex Barth (86 tackles).

“When you have a quarterback who can run, it gives you in a sense one extra guy,” Jones said. “We have just got to play disciplined football, stay in our gaps and don’t get fooled with all of the smoke and mirrors that they put in front of you. You have to stay sound and gang tackle.”

Daughtrey also has some dangerous targets in Jimmy Kibble and Brendan Boyers and Murray can pile up the yards on the ground.

“They run a lot of different formations and that’s what is scary,” Jones said. “They give you a lot of different looks. They run a lot of the same plays which makes it easier for them to practice. They line up a lot of different formations to make you have to adjust.”

Loudoun County also is coming off a strong defensive effort in a 21-7 victory over Heritage last week. Kibble and Daughtrey each had picks as the Captains defense intercepted Heritage standout Braden Smith three times.

“They bend a little bit, but they don’t break,” Jones said of the Loudoun County defense. “They fly around. When you think there’s a big hole, all of a sudden three of them are in it. They get after it and make it difficult to get the big play on them.”

The Judges have some people who can make big plays and are also coming off a big win, a 26-14 triumph over James Wood.

Running backs Daley (1,568 yards, 10.89 per carry), Emerson Fusco (621, 8.75) and Deonte Trammel (258, 6.79) are all averaging more than six yards every time they tote the ball. Led by Daley’s 24, the trio has rushed for 34 touchdowns.

The key for the Judges may be how well junior quarterback Davion Butler plays in his first postseason game. After a slow start against James Wood, Butler (13 TD passes, 2 interceptions this season) made several big throws in the second half, with a 30-yard completion to Jacob Duffy setting up the game-winning TD.

“Hopefully it helps a lot,” Jones said of Butler’s performance. “Hopefully he sees that if he settles down and takes what they give you and makes his correct reads that he can do it. He’s got the tools and the mental ability.”

In general, Jones said the Judges’ victory against a quality team like the Colonels should help against the Captains. In the victory, the Judges overcame several momentum shifts, including a 99-yard TD run by Jaden Ashby that tied the score in the third quarter.

“We’re in the playoffs where teams are going to make plays on you,” Jones said. “It’s how you respond more importantly to what goes on.”

Jones said the keys to getting the Judges’ first playoff win since 2010 are simple in theory.

“We have to execute and we have to hold onto the ball,” he said. “On defense, we have to play sound gap responsibility and gang tackle.”

— Contact Walt Moody at

wmoody@winchesterstar.com

Follow on Twitter @WinStarSports1

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