H.S. Football Preview: Handley at James Wood

Handley at James Wood
When: Today, 7 p.m.
Where: James Wood’s Jerry L. Kelican Stadium.
Records: Handley Judges (1-8, 0-3 Northwestern District); James Wood Colonels (2-7, 1-2).
Last week: Handley lost to Millbrook 56-6; James Wood lost to Spring Mills 45-0.
Last year: James Wood won 45-28.
Players to watch: Handley — RB/S Michael Brown, QB Jacob Parker, TE/DL Tyrese Dudley, RB/LB Diontre Bell, WR/DB Jeffrey Walker, K/P Aidan Marshall. James Wood — OL/DL Isaac Schrantz; TE/LB Noah Sullivan; RB/LB Ryan Rupp; RB William Crowder, QB Mike Zebarth.
Preview: Two teams that have been beat up most of the season can’t wait to beat up on each other.
James Wood and Handley have had more than their share of injuries this season and have struggled to maintain continuity while plugging new faces into the lineup.
“We are very similarly matched as far as things that went bad this season,” said Handley coach John Davis. “There were a lot of injuries on both sides, but the one thing you can say is that both teams continued to play hard and fight.”
“I think it’s two even ball clubs since we’re banged up and they’re banged up,” added James Wood’s Mark McHale. “… With all of our injuries and people at different positions, they’re probably a little more settled than we are. I think it ought to be a heck of a ballgame.”
Handley is a bit more settled. Quarterback Jacob Parker returned two weeks ago. The Judges also return key two-way players Ra’Shaad Morris and Tyler Mudd this week.
But both are smarting.
The Judges haven’t won since the season opener. The Colonels have lost six of their last seven and have been shut out in their last three losses.
Wood’s Mike Zebarth will make his second career varsity start. In last week’s 45-0 loss to Spring Mills, Zebarth faced pressure throughout.
“He managed the game pretty good,” McHale said. “I think he did a good job starting for the first time.”
The Colonels will face blitzes from Handley so they need to move the ball on the ground. Ryan Rupp, Keegan DeHaven and William Crowder are capable backs and they have helped Wood control the ball for long chunks of time at points this season.
That concerns Davis as well as the many adjustments McHale has made around his healthy personnel.
“We’re not sure what they’re going to come out in offensively,” Davis said. “... They hold onto the football a good chunk of time. They probably lead the area in time of possession. When you do that, the games are going to be shortened and the mistakes are going to be magnified.”
McHale said he’s worried about Handley’s speed. Even though the Colonels won last season, they got a taste of the Judges’ speed as Parker threw a pair of long touchdown passes to Jeffrey Walker in the second half.
“We’re always concerned about speed,” McHale said. “[Walker] caught two fades last year with the same quarterback throwing to him. I’m sure we’ll get tested there. … I really like [Parker]. I think he’s a good quarterback.”
McHale is also impressed with the job Davis is doing in trying to build a program that went 0-10 last season.
“I think he’s trying to rebuild the culture there at Handley and they play hard,” McHale said. “I think they do some very good things.”
What will it take to win?
“It’s going to be up to whoever ends up making the least amount of mistakes,” Davis said. “They’re going to hold the ball for a long time. Whoever makes the other team punt the most is going to end up winning this ballgame.”
But McHale is wary of Handley punter Aidan Marshall who leads the area with a 42.7 average.
“The weapon that they have in a game like this is their punter,” McHale said. “He’s a really good punter and that doesn’t allow you to make any mistakes and have to punt the ball to get field position. We’ve got to get some first downs this week.”
And make no mistake, both coaches want a win.
“If you end the season with a win, it’s a big deal,” McHale said. “It’s really big going into the offseason.”
“It’s a matchup that both teams really need to have going into the offseason with us having less than stellar seasons, less then we all expected,” Davis said. “This is one of those ones that we both need to feel good going into the offseason.
“You throw the records out of the window. Whichever team comes out on top, it’s going to feel like the Super Bowl. We feel like that and prepare that way. It’s that important to both sides.”
— Compiled by Walt Moody