When you look at a football scoreboard and see 48 points on the board, the first impression is to think the offense had a really good game.
Last week, Handley's offense had a solid effort against Warren County, but the Judges' defense played a big part in that 48-0 romp.
Handley's defense scored a touchdown, forced four turnovers and held the Wildcats to 29 total yards, including one yard rushing in 28 attempts.
“We knew going in that was our strength because we had so many [experienced defensive players] back,” said Handley coach Dan Jones, whose squad travels to longtime rival Harrisonburg tonight at 7 p.m. “That's what we need to rely on early to let our offense start to jell and get on all cylinders. Our defense gave us excitement and made our offense feel good. We played having fun and not stressing over our assignments on the line. We had fun and it showed.”
Stephen Daley, who returned a fumble for a score, had a sack on the Wildcats' opening play and the Judges defense set the tone from there. Warren County managed just three first downs, one on a penalty, as Handley controlled the contest.
“We were very sound,” Jones said. “We had 11 hats to the ball on every play. Our pursuit has been incredible. Coach [Jim] Gaynor had a nice scheme and the kids executed perfectly.”
One indication of how well the Judges pursued is their tackle numbers. Usually, linebackers are going to rack up the big numbers, but defensive tackle Tommy Ashby tied with middle linebacker Quinton Newman for the team lead with eight. Jones said Ashby was in position and waiting when the Handley pursuit forced Warren County runners to cut back.
“When we are pursuing, you are going to get in on a lot more tackles,” Jones said. “They found that out.”
The Judges offense did make plenty of big plays, too. Four of the Judges' touchdowns came on plays of 25 yards or longer.
In his first start at quarterback, Malachi Imoh rushed for 131 yards and two scores, while passing for 122 and two TDs.
“Hopefully, it shows him what he's capable of doing,” Jones said. “We still made mistakes [two turnovers] and he had some reads he missed and some assignments he could have made things a little easier for us, but overall for what I expected he did a wonderful job. Hopefully, we all build from it.”
Noah Hendrickson added 11 carries for 64 yards and a score, while Miles Ashe went 40 yards for a TD on his only carry. Jayden Vardaro and Mason Smith caught TD passes.
“We mixed the ball up well,” Jones said. “We had six different people who scored which is what we were hoping to do, to get it to where you can't rely on one or they look to stop one person. When they have to defend everybody, we'll be in better shape.”
While things went great for the Judges, it went exactly the opposite for Harrisonburg last week.
Leading 10-3 in the second quarter, the Blue Streaks gave up 49 unanswered points in a 52-10 loss to William Fleming. Harrisonburg was outscored 42-0 in the second half by the Colonels, who were coming off a 1-8 campaign last fall.
In watching the film, Jones said the Blue Streaks ran into a scenario he's seen before.
“When you're young — and they are still a young team — a couple of things didn't go their way,” Jones said. “They had a couple of bad breaks. … It's happened to us before. It's hard to keep their heads up. It's hard to get them to understand it's a long game.”
Jones said he's making his players painfully aware that the 42-point loss is not indicative of how dangerous Harrisonburg has the potential to be.
“They're a good team,” Jones said. “They have the capability to strike on any play. We've got to know that. We can't look at that score and underestimate them.”
Leading that big-play ability is quarterback Kwentin Smiley, who rushed for 95 yards and threw a touchdown pass in the Blue Streaks' 24-17 loss to the Judges last year. Handley needed two touchdowns in the final seven minutes to pull out the win.
Smiley's 67-yard run was the lone TD for Harrisonburg in Week 1. Division I prospect Mateo Peric booted a 32-yard field goal.
“They're kind of like us — with their speed they are capable of a big play at any time,” Jones said. “Even on a broken play, their quarterback can hurt you. They have tall receivers and are big on the front with their offensive line. We've got to be sound. You can't take a single play off because that's when they are going to hurt you.”
Jones points to a couple of keys for the Judges to garner another win in the series, which they lead 46-32-3.
“We have to contain their quarterback,” Jones said. “We can't let him get out and let other people hurt us. Offensively, we've just to control the tempo, control the ball and hang onto it.”