By Greg Brill -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Tony Rayburn looked like a coach who had aged 10 years.
The Handley football coach had just watched his team, somehow, survive 14 penalties and six turnovers to beat Warren County 31-30 in overtime Friday night at Wildcat Stadium.
"It was as ugly as it possibly could be," Rayburn said. "We were fortunate. We made enough plays to win, but I'm going to tell you, number one, hats off to Warren County. We saw them on film and noticed some of the qualities they had and that they were a good team.
"They played a heck of a game and deserved to win. We were very fortunate."
When David Carter, who scored the tying touchdown with less than two minutes left in regulation on a trick-play pass, broke through and blocked Ryan Molka's extra point in overtime, the Judges could finally stop and exhale.
"We work on [blocking extra points] in practice," Carter said. "[Teammate] Steven Amos pulls his guy outside and I run underneath him and dive after the ball. Somebody had to make a play."
The Wildcats came oh-so-close to giving third-year coach Tony Tallent a signature win and the program's first victory over Handley since 2002.
"Our kids put everything on the line and we still had more to give," Tallent said. "We still had plenty in our tank and we were ready to roll. I'm very proud of the coaching staff and I'm very proud of the kids.
"We played like we're capable of playing, and that's probably how we should play every week."
The Wildcats laid a hat on the Judges often. Except for a 74-yard run for Handley's first touchdown, Jeremiah Wilson was often bottled up. Only three of Wilson's 22 carries went for more than 10 yards, and he also lost a fumble that led to Warren County's first score. Quarterback Geremi Long also struggled one game after throwing for four touchdowns, getting picked off three times by the Wildcats and also losing a fumble.
"They did a nice job up front," Rayburn said. "They were beating us up front a good bit. They had a nice game plan and really mixed up their fronts well so we really couldn't get a read on what they were doing."
The game was tied heading to the fourth quarter before Will Hoffmaster -- who was crowned Homecoming King at halftime -- got his second interception on the first play of the fourth quarter to set the Wildcats up at the Handley 37. Warren County converted twice on third down and got the go-ahead score when Marty Haley (25 carries, 162 yards, three touchdowns) scored from the 11 on a toss sweep to lead 24-17 with 6:45 left.
The Wildcats got the ball back with 4:11 left, got one first down, and quick-kicked back to the Judges, who took over at their 45 with 1:25 left and no timeouts.
On the first play, Handley worked some razzle-dazzle. On a double-reverse, Kenny Griffin got the second handoff and worked toward the Wildcats' sideline, pulling up and tossing down to a wide-open Carter. Carter made the catch and outsprinted Warren County's secondary to the end zone as the Judges' sideline went into bedlam.
"I knew Kenny could throw the ball," Carter said. "I didn't go full spread, because I knew he couldn't throw it that far. But, I knew how far he could throw it. We executed the play."
Said Rayburn: "That's all [quarterback's coach Jerry] Putt. I just looked up when it was called, and it was a heck of a call. One of the best calls I've seen in a while."
In overtime, Handley (5-0) got the ball first. Wilson (22 carries, 154 yards, three touchdowns) gained four yards on first down, then popped in from the 6. Graham Sharples' all-important extra point made it 31-30.
Then it was the Wildcats' turn. It took Haley just one play to get into the end zone, and Warren County decided to go for the tie.
However, Carter broke through and saved the Judges.
A 74-yard run by Wilson opened the scoring in the first quarter, and Sharples added a 25-yard field goal late for a 10-0 lead.
Then, after gaining one first down in their first four combined offensive series, the Wildcats (1-4) took advantage of a Wilson fumble at the Handley 12 to get on the board.
Even though it had a short field to work with, Warren County was aided by two Handley penalties on the drive. Haley scored from the 4, and the Wildcats trailed 10-7 at the half.
In the third, Molka tied the game at 10 with a 28-yard field goal. Wilson capped a 78-yard drive with an 11-yard run late in the quarter, but Warren County came right back. A Haley gain of 68 gave the Wildcats the ball at Handley's 2, and quarterback Austin Schwarz scored from there to re-tie the game at 17.
"I would say this was a signature event for our program," Tallent said.
Said Griffin: "We made a lot of mistakes, but when it came down to the wire we had to step up and make plays. We did that and got a victory."