WARRENTON — It’s been said there is no such thing as an ugly win, and while that may be true some wins are definitely prettier than others.
Friday night the undefeated Handley football team took to the road for its first district game of the season and a thing of beauty it wasn’t.
In a game that featured 29 penalties, the Judges were whistled for a mind-boggling 26 flags for 225 yards, yet somehow overcame as much adversity as they had seen all season. Thanks to the legs of senior Stephen Daley, Handley pulled out a 28-14 victory over Fauquier in a Class 4 Northwestern District contest that wasn’t as close as the score might indicate.
“They just step up, the great thing about this team is it doesn’t matter what’s thrown at them. They’ve met every challenge,” Handley head coach Dan Jones said. “We’ve been smacked a couple of times but we’ve responded and we’ve performed when we needed to.”
Daley carried the ball 20 times for 328 yards and two touchdowns but most importantly was a stabilizing force with the ball when Handley needed it most.
“We knew with this being the first district game, these are the ones that really count and they were going to fight until the end,” Daley said. “My coaches believe in me, and I believe in my line and I just follow their blocks.”
As has been the case so often this season, the Judges didn’t get off to the start they wanted. On the opening kickoff, they were whistled for offsides, a foreshadowing of things to come.
Once Fauquier (1-4 overall, 0-1 district) did set up its offense, the Falcons surprised the Judges with a trick play, an end around pass that went for 42 yards to the Handley 18. Six plays later, Andrew Olney punched it in from the 1 to give the Falcons an early 7-0 lead.
“I don’t know what we’re doing wrong. It’s us as coaches,” Jones said of the slow starts the have been common this season. “We don’t have them ready to play apparently. We as a staff have to work on that because it’s a trend. It must be something we’re not doing correct to get them ready to start the game.”
Handley (5-0, 1-0) didn’t waste anytime answering. After a good return gave the Judges the ball at their 40, they went 60 yards in four plays, all runs and tied the game up 7-7 when Emerson Fusco broke loose from 20 yards out.
Once the Judges’ defense got into the flow of the game, it started to dominate the Falcons and forced five turnovers (three interceptions, two fumble recoveries).
The Falcons were held to just over 200 yards total offense, but seemingly each time the Judges made a big play a penalty wiped it out.
On Fauquier’s second possession, Handley defensive back Aaron Lee intercepted a Falcons pass. The Judges were penalized on the return and took over at their 18.
In the next four plays, the Judges lost three yards on a screen pass and were penalized two more times, driving them all the way back to their 5 where they faced a third-and-23.
On the next play, the Handley line opened up a huge hole and Daley was the benefactor. He broke through the line and was off to the races, outrunning everyone 95 yards to put the Judges up for good at 14-7.
“I think that gave us a lot of energy,” Daley said. “It helped us a lot. We were able to come up with a big play when we needed to.”
Jones added, “That’s what we talked about, we had some adversity going there and he’s a big time player and he made a big time play, and our O-line, heck I could’ve run through that hole.”
Fauquier’s next three possessions ended with a turnover on downs, a fumble, and a punt but the Judges were unable to take advantage of the good fortune provided to them by the defense, again done in several times by untimely penalties.
Handley took the second half kickoff and again found itself in a hole after a bad snap on the first play led to a turnover and set up the Falcons at the Judges’ 18.
The defense was equal to the task by allowing only two yards in three plays and forcing the Falcons to try a 33-yard field goal, which was no good.
The Judges took over on their 20 and immediately were penalized back to the 15. On the next play Handley quarterback Davion Butler hit Jacob Duffy in stride down the near side and Duffy was off to the races. His 85-yard TD put the Judges up 21-7.
After a Falcons three-and-out, the Judges scored their final touchdown of the game on a nine-play, 58-yard drive that ended with Daley scoring from two yards out to make it 28-7 with 4:53 left in the third.
Handley finished the night with 402 rushing yards on 46 attempts and 118 yards through the air. Butler was 5-for-11 with one touchdown pass.
The Judges enter their bye week before facing off against Millbrook in two weeks.
“This team has goals, and expectations and they’re working hard every day to get to that point,” Jones said. “We just go one game at a time and this first district win is huge.”