Ripping through a non-district schedule with ease has been impressive for the Handley football team.
But as imposing as their collective 190-25 scoring total over their four opponents has been, the Judges know that those numbers mean nothing now.
To advance to the postseason for the third consecutive season, Handley must finish among the top four in the Class 4 Northwestern District. The Judges take their first step in district action tonight as they travel to Fauquier at 7 p.m.
“Everybody kind of knows in our district that we’re 0-0 now,” Handley coach Dan Jones said after practice on Tuesday. “It doesn’t matter. It’s the district that determines what we do next.”
To that extent, Jones says each week is like a playoff week because with just six district games each win is critical.
“We don’t say that to the team, but you have to look at it that way,” he said. “The top four make it in, so every game is important.”
The Judges, coming off a 56-13 win over Skyline last week, have shown they can be a tough opponent for any of the district squads. Handley is averaging 47.5 points per game. Stephen Daley has run the ball just 35 times this season, but he’s scored on 11 of them and is averaging more than 12 yards per carry.
Izayah Arnoux (3) and Emerson Fusco (2) also have rushed for multiple scores. Quarterback Davion Butler is completing 69 percent of his passes and has thrown for five touchdowns without an interception and Jacob Duffy has 14 catches, including three TDs.
Duffy is in his first season with the Judges and is making a big impact. “Duffy is a great addition,” Jones said. “You need to have football players like that who surprise you when they come out for one year. He’s been a joy to coach and a very smart kid. He just makes plays.”
Handley’s first-team defense had been outstanding, having not allowed more than one touchdown in any game. The Judges have forced eight fumbles (three each by linemen Daley and Rodd’ney Davenport) and have a whopping 32 tackles for losses, including seven sacks.
“I feel like we are where we need to be with experience and confidence,” Jones said of his team. “I just think we need to keep getting better each week.”
While the Falcons are off to a 1-3 start (one loss was a forfeit), they did get their first win last week with a 20-0 shutout against Warren County.
Jones says he’s wary of Karl Buckwalter’s squad.
“They’re feisty,” Jones said of the Falcons. “They’re well-coached. They get after it. They fly around defensively. They’re sound. Offensively, they’re dangerous because they execute well.”
While the long line of Diehls playing quarterback ended when J.T. Diehl became the final of three brothers to call signals for the Falcons this past spring, freshman Ben Noland has a similar style. Noland rushed for a score in a 20-0 victory over Warren County.
“He slings it,” Jones said of Noland. “He can throw the ball and he’s not afraid to throw it. He’s quick and elusive. We’ve got to pay attention where he is. He can hurt us with his arm and with his legs.”
Fauquier’s defense picked off four Warren County passes, including linebacker Wyatt Croson’s 20-yard TD return.
“They’re physical kids who like to fight you four quarters,” Jones said.
Jones hopes to see a fast start for the Judges, who have struggled early in their last three victories.
“The big thing for us is to come out strong,” he said. “We’ve kind of shot ourselves in the foot with penalties or turnovers, like this last game (with two). We have to come out strong and play like every down is important. I hope we execute well both offensively and defensively.”
Daley believes the Judges will be ready for district action. “I think we’re prepared,” he said after Saturday’s win. “As long as we focus on the little things Coach Jones tells us we will be fine.”