By Tommy Keeler Jr. -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- With the game on the line it was two back-ups that stepped up and made plays for Handley on Saturday.
Juniors Jaivon Wilson and Ryan Crawford combined for three interceptions to help Handley hold on for a 17-14 win over Briar Woods. It was Handley's first game in the newly renovated Handley Bowl, which includes a synthetic turf field.
Wilson is usually in the shadow of his older brother, Jeremiah Wilson, but, when his sibling went down with an injury, he was called on to take his place on defense. Jaivon Wilson had two interceptions in the fourth quarter to stave off a Briar Woods rally.
"I just learned from my coaches and from my brother and just played to the best of my abilities and it all paid off," Jaivon Wilson said. "[Jeremiah's] taught me a lot and so has my defensive back coach."
Jeremiah Wilson, who ran for 150 yards on 11 carries, said he couldn't have been more proud of his brother.
"When he came to the sidelines I had to congratulate him," Jeremiah Wilson said. "He was excited and I was excited for him. I was probably more excited than he was."
The Judges (2-0) played the game without fullback/linebacker Leonard Grant, but Crawford earned the start at linebacker in his place.
A short Handley punt gave Briar Woods the ball at the Falcons' 32-yard line with 1:42 left. On the next play, Crawford intercepted the pass by Briar Woods quarterback Mark Leith and returned it to the Briar Woods 25 with 1:33 remaining in the game.
"I thought [Leith] was going to roll out, and then I saw he was staying in the pocket," Crawford said. "I just stepped up and it just happened the ball was right there -- and then I started running.
"It was amazing because it was my first real varsity start and my first pick. It was like living a dream."
Briar Woods gave the Judges a real scare, especially in the first half. Briar Woods coach Charlie Pierce switched quarterbacks this week going with Leith over senior Austin Fratalli. The Falcons also ran the wildcat formation for the first time this season, which gave the Judges problems.
"We've been practicing it since the summer," Pierce said. "We've been waiting for the right time to use it."
Briar Woods used an 11-play, 74-yard drive to take the early lead. Sophomore running back Alex Carter scored from 9 yards out on a wildcat play to give Briar Woods a 7-0 lead with 3:40 left in the first quarter.
The drive was aided by two Handley penalties. The Judges committed 14 penalties for 125 yards on the day.
A Handley fumble on its next possession gave the Falcons a chance to add to their lead. Briar Woods moved the ball inside the Handley 10, but on fourth-and-1 from the Handley 3 the drive stalled.
The Judges took advantage with a big play from Jeremiah Wilson. On second-and-15 from the Handley 15, Wilson dodged several tacklers until he found a hole and darted down the left sideline for an 85-yard touchdown with 7:36 left in the first half.
"Most of the time the hole is not going to be where it is in practice," Wilson said. "I know in games there's going to be holes. You just got to find them.
"I had a couple good blocks and found the hole and went down the sidelines."
The Judges scored on their first possession of the second half with another big play this time through the air. Geremi Long connected with David Carter, who made a diving catch into the end zone, for a 37-yard touchdown to put the Judges up 14-7 with 9:46 left in the third quarter.
"I beat my guy down the sidelines and Geremi threw a nice ball," Carter said. "It was out in front of me and I had to speed up for it. It was in the end zone and I dove for it and caught it."
Graham Sharples added a 31-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to give Handley a 17-7 lead. The Falcons responded with a five-play 68-yard drive capped off by an 11-yard touchdown pass from Leith to Gavin Scherer with 8:50 left in the game.
Jeremiah Wilson suffered an injury in the third quarter and went out for a while, but returned with 8:46 left in the game. He ran for 27 yards on the next play, but then had to come out for good as the pain became too much to bear. Wilson said after the game he thinks it's a sprained ankle, the same injury that had Grant sidelined.
Briar Woods is now 0-3, but has played a very difficult schedule. Pierce said he was proud of his team despite the loss.
"We've just got to keep working hard," he said. "They're high-character individuals. They've got a lot of pride. A couple things here or there and we could be 3-0, 2-1, who knows."
It was the second straight week the Judges have had to overcome adversity throughout the game. Last week the Judges overcame several injuries and rallied for a 21-17 win over Harrisonburg.
"It builds a lot of character," Rayburn said. "To this point, this team has been resilient and have overcome good teams and our own mistakes."