Football Game of the Week: Handley, James Wood crave victory

By ROBERT NIEDZWIECKI | The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — The James Wood and Handley football teams are a little short on momentum coming into Saturday’s game at Handley’s James R. Wilkins Stadium, but there’s plenty of motivation.
“Anytime you’re going against somebody who’s from your local area, you want to step up your level of competition a little bit,” James Wood first-year head coach Ryan Morgan said. “You should plan to play hard every week, but there’s always a little extra incentive when you know the guys across the line from you.
“This is an old rivalry. This is something that a lot of their fathers and grandfathers and uncles talk about, when they played in the rivalry.”
The most contested rivalry between all local schools (Handley leads 36-18-1 after last year’s 35-10 home win) has a bit of a twist on it this year.
For the first time since 2008, this won’t be the regular-season finale for both teams. James Wood (2-6, 0-4 Class 4 Northwestern District) — which is on a five-game losing streak — will conclude its season next week at home against Kettle Run.
It is the final game for Handley (3-6, 1-4) this season though. For a Judges team that’s on a three-game losing streak, it would mean a great deal to finish out the year strong.
“We’re emphasizing tenaciousness, and just making sure our guys understand that this is their last opportunity to play together,” said Handley second-year coach John Davis, whose team has surpassed last year’s win total of two. “We want to make sure we come out with a little more fire. We’re really emphasizing the first quarter this week.”
Handley is coming off a 59-14 loss to Sherando in which it was outscored 24-0 in the first quarter. The Judges recorded minus-15 yards from scrimmage in the game’s opening 12 minutes, and things didn’t get much better in the second quarter as the Warriors extended their lead to 52-0.
At halftime against Fauquier last week, James Wood was still very much in position to get its first win since Sept. 8.
But the Colonels were outscored 26-0 in the second half of a 38-8 loss. It was a frustrating performance, particularly since James Wood stayed within one score of Millbrook (8-0) until there was 6:32 left in a 24-8 loss.
“Our team has to understand that it needs to bring it every week,” Morgan said. “I don’t think we played to our potential against Warren County and I don’t think we played to our potential against Fauquier.”
Both James Wood and Handley — the two lowest scoring teams in the district at 18.6 and 16.9 points per game, respectively — will look to have stronger results on offense on Saturday.
The two teams combined for 257 yards last week, with the Colonels turning the ball over five teams in their game. For the season, the Colonels are averaging 251.8 yards per game while Handley is averaging 270.6.
Morgan said blocking was a big factor in a loss to the Falcons. He said his team is still adjusting to its new blocking terminology in its pistol wing-T offense.
“They did a lot of zone blocking the past couple years,” Morgan said. “Just that muscle memory of taking the right steps and getting their butts together on double teams, it’s different now.
“A lot of times this year, either with our center or our guard, we’re blocking back away from where the hole is. Sometimes our guys are used to taking a 45-degree step, and instead they’re supposed to take a step into the line, or a step straight ahead, keep their toes ahead rather than angling their foot. They’re used to doing things that worked last year, now the plays and the blocks are slightly different. It’s one of the problems of changing systems, but it’s necessary sometimes.”
James Wood turned to senior Mike Zebarth at quarterback on its third possession of the second half last week, but Morgan said he will continue to start sophomore Carson Hoberg (259 yards passing, two TDs, two interceptions this year).
“He’s made some mistakes, but he’s done a good job,” Morgan said. “He’s growing up and maturing. He’s done a better job than I would expect from most sophomores. Playing quarterback is a tough job, but he’s extremely coachable and smart.”
After three weeks of using sophomore running back Malachi Imoh in the Wildcat, Handley used Imoh (91 carries for 498 yards and 5 TDs, 231 passing yards) almost exclusively at quarterback against Liberty two weeks ago. Imoh started the Sherando game at quarterback as well. But with five seconds left in the first quarter the Judges turned to Jacob Parker (844 yards, seven TDs, 13 interceptions), the team’s primary quarterback for the first seven games.
Davis said he plans on playing both of them on Saturday. Imoh had two rushing touchdowns in the second half against Sherando to break a streak of 10 scoreless quarters for the Judges.
“We want to try and keep [James Wood] off-balance as much as possible,” Davis said. “We’ll allow the game to play out and we’ll see where we have the advantages at.”
Each coach expects Saturday to be a good challenge.
James Wood is also led by running back William Crowder (277 yards, four TDs), who had a 93-yard kickoff return for a TD last week.
“They have what most will say is an unconventional offense,” Davis said. “You have to make sure that you have all your bases covered, because on any given play any one of those four guys [in the backfield] can touch the football. You’ve got to play assignment-based football, and you’ve got to be aggressive.”
Handley is also led on offense by wide receiver Kevin Curry (36 catches for 643 yards and six TDs) and Christian Moten (159 carries for 730 yards and nine TDs).
“They’ve got some guys who fire off the ball both offensively and defensively,” Morgan said. “They’ve got more speed than us.
“But I think the game’s going to be won inside. They like to run the ball, we like to run the ball. I think it’s going to be a smashmouth football game, but we’ve got to contain them when they break out, because they’ve got some guys we’re going to have a hard time catching.”
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