By Greg Brill - email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- Early on, Harrisonburg tailback Michael Holmes had nowhere to go. If Holmes tried to go between his massive tackles, he was met by several Handley tacklers. If he tried to get to the outside, a couple maroon jerseys were there to cut off his running lanes.
It went this way for most of the first half Saturday at the Handley Bowl. After nine carries, Holmes had 10 yards.
That's 10 yards for a player getting recruited by several in-state Division-I universities. It's the same Holmes who earned Group AA offensive player of the year honors in 2009 by the Associated Press after scoring 41 touchdowns as a junior.
With under a minute left in the half, Holmes finally got loose and picked up 48 yards on a toss sweep. The Blue Streaks still did not reach the end zone until late in the third quarter and had to add a second touchdown in the fourth quarter to hold off the Judges, 14-7, in the non-district football season opener for both teams.
Holmes finished with 243 yards on 27 carries, getting the bulk of his yards (185) in the second half.
"Michael's a special back -- he's not going to be held down very long," Harrisonburg coach Tim Sarver said. "It's very seldom that you're going to keep him getting some yardage."
With Handley using many players on both sides of the ball, it was only a matter of time before Holmes was able to churn out big yardage.
"[Handley] had to use a lot of guys both ways and we didn't have to," Holmes said. "We were fresh [late in the game]. We just kept pounding and pounding."
Early on, it wasn't so easy. Harrisonburg managed only 60 rushing yards in the first half, but that all changed when better blocking from an inexperienced offensive line (just one starter back) found some openings for Holmes, who did the rest once he shot through gaps.
After getting bottled up for a half, Holmes got loose on another toss sweep to score from 24 yards out with 54 seconds left in the third quarter to put the Blue Streaks up, 7-0.
Said Holmes: "I saw [right guard] Simon [Rosquero] take out two guys and I shot up the gap."
After Handley came back to tie it in the fourth, Harrisonburg scored on its next possession, going 77 yards in seven plays. Holmes gained 36 yards on the first play to the Handley 41. Holmes also had runs of eight and six, the second carry moving the ball to the 15.
From there, quarterback Jake Johnson carried three straight times. He capped the drive with a blast from the five with 5:10 left.
Johnson (88 yards passing) also bounced back well. He twice almost lost exchanges from center when he saw blitzes coming, and he was sacked three times, including twice by linebacker Dexter Sloane.
With North Carolina commit Landon Turner (6-5, 320) the lone starter back on the offensive line, Harrisonburg had trouble picking up Handley's defensive package until deep in the second half.
"At halftime we made a couple adjustments," Sarver said. "We could see what they were doing with their blitzes, and that helped us [adapt] well."
For much of the game, Handley's defense put up a tough fight. Defensive lineman Derek Dowrey forced Johnson into a fumble (the game's only turnover) and Nick Randazzo recovered for the Judges.
Handley did not get points off the turnover, but it had sent a message.
"I thought our defense gave an unbelievable effort," Handley coach Tony Rayburn said. "We felt like if we kept them from the big play, we had a shot. And we had a shot.
"They just wore us down in the end. No excuses -- Harrisonburg's a heck of a football team."
While much has been expected from Holmes ever since his breakout junior season began in 2009, Handley got something of a superman display from senior Trae Peck.
A returning starter in the defensive secondary, Peck is being called on to do a bit more this season.
Peck (40.0 average) kept Harrisonburg back plenty with his punting, he returned a pair of punts for a combined 36 yards, a kickoff for 22, and had three pass breakups.