Colonels, Judges motivated for different reasons in rivalry clash

WINCHESTER — Tonight’s football clash between Handley and James Wood won’t decide playoff berths for either team.
The Judges are 5-4 and the Colonels are 3-5 and out of postseason contention.
But the 7 p.m. battle at Kelican Stadium still carries plenty of importance to the two rivals in different ways, especially for each team’s seniors.
“You always want to finish the season and finish your career on a positive note,” said senior quarterback Jacob Parker of the Judges’ season finale. “And also to have a winning season, something I’ve never experienced. That’s something not only just for me, but the rest of my teammates to enjoy.”
“It would mean everything,” James Wood senior lineman Zach Herbert said of a potential win over Handley. “They have talked about it all week. Only one person [currently on the team] has beaten Handley at the varsity level. [Coach Ryan Morgan] has made that clear. This is a very serious game.”
The Judges own a 37-18-1 edge in the series, which started in 1962. Handley has especially been dominant over the last three decades, winning 28 of the last 32 meetings. James Wood last won in 2015, a 45-28 triumph.
“It’s a rivalry that’s been here even before I was born, way before that,” Parker said. “To hopefully come out and get this win would be a great way to end the season.”
“I think the kids are pretty excited to play Handley,” Morgan said. “… Their dads have stories and their grandparents have stories. It’s big for their families and big for them. They have friends that play over at Handley. They went to middle school with them, have been in Boy Scouts with them or something like that. It still has that crosstown rivalry feeling even though Millbrook and Sherando have popped up more recently.”
Both programs already have taken a step forward this season.
Handley has surpassed its four-win total from last season. As a program, the Judges had just six victories since going winless for the first time in program history in 2015.
Adding one more win would be big for the Judges.
“It’s huge for the sense that it would be the first winning season that they’ve had here at Handley,” coach Dan Jones said of his seniors. “It shows how much that they’ve been important to build that. They’ve gotten more wins each year. But really it’s like anybody. Being seniors, it’s great to go out on a win regardless of when it is. You wish for better things [in the future] and we hope for things to work out for us, but right now we look at it as this is the only game that is important.”
James Wood has moved past two wins for the first time since the 2015 season.
“Ever since I’ve been playing varsity, we haven’t won more than two games,” said the 6-foot-5, 316-pound Herbert. “We’re constantly improving and just trying to get better as the season progresses. We’re just trying to win every game we can.”
Both coaches have high praise for each other’s teams heading into tonight’s clash.
James Wood is coming off a 44-14 romp against Fauquier last Friday, a contest in which the Colonels rushed for 383 yards.
“They’ve improved all year,” Jones said of the Colonels. “They’ve done what we’ve been trying to do. I think we’ve taken steps, but they have definitely taken steps in the right direction. They are well-coached and are sound on everything they do. If you don’t do your gap responsibility, they will kill you. They run the ball very well.”
The Judges have dropped three straight, but Morgan said his players are well aware of what Handley accomplished earlier this season.
“It’s a challenge for our kids to beat a solid team like Handley,” he said. “A lot of the boys have gone over to see Handley games on Saturdays. They’ve seen them come back against teams and make big plays. I think they see it as a challenge to see if they can match up against them.”
The Judges have struggled offensively in their last two losses. The offensive unit has been held out of the end zone by Liberty and Sherando.
Jones said the solution to the Judges’ struggles is simple.
“Block the right people,” he said. “If we execute properly, we’ve been successful. We have just got to stay away from mistakes, whether it’s a penalty, a turnover or a missed assignment. If we stay away from mistakes, we’ve been pretty successful.”
“We’re just beating ourselves,” Parker added. “If we go out there and know our alignments and assignments, we can do well.”
Morgan said his squad is very wary when the Judges have the ball. Parker has thrown for 1,654 yards and 14 touchdowns, 12 of those TD passes to Kevin Curry, who has 57 catches for 946 yards. Malachi Imoh has rushed for 731 yards and seven scores.
“They’ve got a good quarterback who can throw the ball,” Morgan said. “He throws one of the better balls that we’ve seen. He has a good receiver obviously in Kevin Curry, who is the the best receiver that we’ve seen in the area. They’ve got Malachi Imoh who is a good running back. He’s good out in space and he’s fast and quick. There are a lot of things that concern us when we are on defense.”
James Wood features a varied rushing attack. William Crowder (599, 5 TDs), Sam Adkins (500, 7 TDs) and Jackson Turner (466, 6 TDs) have combined for 1,565 yards and 13 TDs.
Quarterback Carson Hoberg’s favorite target is Treyven Mandel, who has 10 catches for 238 yards and four touchdowns.
“We have to perform at our best,” Jones said. “It’s going to be a good game. They’re going to force us to play a great game to beat them.”
Morgan said there are a couple of keys that the Colonels must do well to win.
“Defensively, we have to tackle well,” he said. “They have good athletes who can cause trouble out in open space. Curry can sky for the ball. We have to make sure we have people on him and that we’re swarming to the football. We know that they are going to make some plays. It’s a matter of trying to limit the number of big plays that they have.
“Up front, they are going to keep seven or eight guys in the box and we’ve got to block the right guy. We’ve got to break tackles and possess the ball and keep their playmakers off the field hopefully.”
The Colonels also have a little added incentive. Players from James Wood’s unbeaten 1968 team, which defeated Handley 9-7 to cap a 10-0 season, will be honored at the contest. Team captains Mike Headley and Ron Combs will toss the coin.
“It is pretty cool to see the old rivalry and everything,” Herbert said. “It’s just cool to see them to come out and support us.”
“It’s awesome that those people are still engaged with James Wood football,” Morgan echoed. “Not many schools period are still going from 1968. I think it will be a neat experience for those guys to show up. Hopefully, it will give us a boost of energy for the game to know they will be there watching and cheering for us. It’s great that we have that tradition that kids can connect to that a lot of other schools don’t have.”
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