Handley tops Wood with late surge

WINCHESTER — When two teams are as effective on offense as Handley and James Wood were on Friday night at Jerry Kelican Stadium, any plays with subpar execution on that side of the ball were going to be magnified.
The Colonels had three such plays on two critical second-half possessions and the Judges did not let them off the hook.
In a game in which the longtime rivals combined for 885 yards, the Judges scored the last 15 points after forcing punts on two James Wood possessions in which the Colonels had third-and-1 situations and finished with a 42-28 victory.
In the Class 4 Northwestern District opener for both teams, the Judges (2-3) put up 475 yards (345 rushing) while the Colonels (2-3) compiled 410 yards (261 passing).
Handley led 20-14 at halftime. The Judges looked like they were in danger of letting James Wood get on a roll after the Colonels, up 28-27 and fresh off an 80-yard touchdown drive, forced a three-and-out and took over at their own 25 with 4:40 remaining in the third quarter.
But after Dominik Ramirez (13 carries, 57 yards, three TDs) couldn’t hold onto a snap toward his head on third-and-1 from the Colonels’ 34 and fell on it back at the 27 for a seven-yard loss, the Judges seemingly made every play they had to in possessing the ball for more than 12 of the last 15 minutes of the game.
Handley quarterback Christian Metzger (11 carries, 111 yards, two touchdowns; 10 of 16 for 130 yards, one TD and two interceptions) put the Judges up for good with an 11-yard TD run with 11:37 left, with the fourth of Joshua Newcome’s four extra-point kicks making it 34-28. Hassan Akanbi (19 carries, 99 yards, three TDs; five catches, 46 yards) helped close out the scoring with a 14-yard TD run, with a two-point run by Manno Lusca (13 carries, 106 yards) putting the final points on the board.
The Judges’ intensity, confidence and execution put them over the top.
“All this week, ‘Bring the juice,’ was our motto,” Metzger said. “Always keep the energy high, never have a down moment, and always keep your teammates up. During this game, I think we showed it. We showed that we don’t quit, we showed that we have a heart for the sport, and we showed that we have a heart for all our teammates.”
Handley took over at its own 47 after the fumble forced the Colonels to punt, and Metzger guided the Judges on a nine-play drive in which they converted a third-and-5 on a seven-yard run by Akanbi and a third-and-7 in which Lusca split between two defenders after catching the ball short of the first down and gained 16 yards to the 11.
Metzger then ran around the left side on the following play and stopped on a dime at the 7 just before reaching the sideline, and two James Wood defenders flew past him out of bounds. Metzger — who had a 52-yard TD run in the first half after sweeping around the left side and running down the sideline untouched — then cut back inside and burst into the end zone to make it 34-28.
With Owen Neal (15 of 23 for 261 yards, including a 76-yard TD pass to Sam Jackson) making several perfect deep throws, and Elijah Richards (22 carries for 84 yards) and Ramirez having strong games on the ground, there was every reason to believe that the Colonels could answer Handley’s touchdown.
James Wood’s offense would not be on the field long, however. On third-and-1, the Colonels were penalized five yards for illegal procedure. Handley then forced Neal out of the pocket on the next play, and he rolled right and threw downfield to Richards beyond the first-down marker. Richards reached up and got his hands on the ball but couldn’t make the grab, and James Wood had to punt again.
On a 12-play, 70-yard drive, the Judges again answered the challenge in critical situations. Jo-Jo Johnson (eight carries, 35 yards) had a 12-yard run on third-and-3 and picked up a first down by inches on a fourth-and-1 run from the Colonels’ 40. Metzger connected with Breylon Miller (three catches, 60 yards, 36-yard TD catch in which he turned from the right sideline and cut up the middle to gain the last 25 yards) for a 20-yard pass on second-and-12 to the James Wood 21.
Two plays later, Akanbi caught a direct snap in Handley’s Wildcat formation in which he and Lusca stand at a 45-degree angle facing inside next to each other, and he ran around the right side of the line on third-and-3 for a 14-yard TD run with 4:28 left.
Whether they were handing him the ball for carries up the middle, giving it to him in motion from a receiver position, snapping it to him directly, or throwing it to him, Akanbi touched the ball 24 times on offense.
Akanbi’s rushing totals were particularly notable, because while he had 100 yards last week, he did so on eight carries, and he only had 11 rushing attempts all season.
“Hassan’s kind of a dangerous kid who can do multiple things,” Handley coach Jake Smith said. “We realize he can tote the rock a little bit too instead of just being a receiver. Getting the ball in his hands is always a good thing. He’s an explosive kid who’s worked really hard to get to where he’s been. He played a great game for us tonight.”
Akanbi also had rushing TDs of four yards and 17 yards in the first half.
“I just had to keep my head right,” said Akanbi of his anticipated workload for Friday. “I knew I had something big coming, but I couldn’t do anything without the line. The line, it was on point.”
Handley’s offensive line corps includes Ivan Membreno, Matthew Bosshard, Jaishaun Offutt, Jaiquan Offutt, Logan Vollmers and Kamrin May, and Josh Cavallero plays tight end.
“They’re getting better all year long,” Smith said. “It’s a fairly inexperienced group, and they’re starting to jibe well together. Coach [Byron] Hoenig does an outstanding job with the offensive line, and they just make strides to get better each week as far as communication, and their eye discipline, and hand placement. Hopefully, we’ll continue to build upon that success as the season goes.”
Patrick Burks intercepted Neal on a second-and-5 play from the Handley 40 with 3:46 left, and the Judges ran out the clock from there to pick up a much-needed win.
“We’ve got seven sophomores who play for us, and early in the year we had some issues with alignment and assignment and handling adversity,” Smith said. “These guys stuck with it. They never quit, they never gave up. The game tonight is a tribute to their work ethic and the things that they’ve done responding to losses. It’s good to see us put together a complete game and come away with a win.”
The Colonels were on the cusp of coming away with a win themselves. A few too many missed tackles on defense and their empty possessions in the middle of the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter were too much to overcome.
James Wood was also stopped inches short of a first down on a fourth-and-5 completion to Richards at the Handley 12 in the second quarter, and the Judges responded with a 12-play, 88-yard TD drive that included third-and-4 and fourth-and-2 conversions. Akanbi’s 17-yard TD run made it 20-6.
“It’s a play here and there,” James Wood coach Todd Wilson said. “Hats off to Handley. They’re a great program. But a lot of things we did was self-inflicted wounds.
“Our guys played really hard. This one hurts and our players are upset, but we told them we’re proud of the way they competed. The way that they performed tonight was a step forward. Obviously, you never want to come out on the losing end, but we saw a lot of good things offensively that were much better than we had in the past couple of weeks.”
Jackson had three catches for 133 yards and Justin Gwinner (two interceptions in the first half) had five catches for 64 yards. The starting offensive line of Kquinse Robinson, Colton Lanham, Jack Thompson, Tyler Walter and Shaun Johnson paved the way for the offensive success.
“Tonight we did a better job of running the ball to be able to set up the pass,” Wilson said.
James Wood will host Meridian in its Homecoming contest next Friday. Handley is off next week and will next play on Oct. 7 at home against Fauquier.
Prior to the game, James Wood held a moment of silence for 1979 graduate and Stephens City resident Kraig Kelican, who died on Thursday at 62 as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident on Sept. 6. The son of former James Wood athletic director and football coach Jerry Kelican was Fauquier High School’s principal.
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