By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Harrisonburg coach Tim Sarver still remembers the Blue Streaks' game against Handley last season. Like several before, the matchup was each team's season opener, presenting an opportunity to start the year off with a quality win.
It had been a back-and-forth game, Sarver remembered, that is until late in the fourth quarter.
"Boy, that was a tough game," Sarver said. "I remember [Handley's] tailback, [Jeremiah] Wilson I think it was, he had a great run late in the game, we threw an interception and ended up falling short. It was a tough loss, but it's always a great measuring stick. We always count on that game letting us know where we stand."
On that day a year ago, Handley got the better of Sarver and his players, escaping with a 21-17 win. On Saturday, however, it won't matter what happened in the past. This game is another clean slate and a chance for both Harrisonburg and Handley to begin potentially memorable seasons.
For both teams, 2009 developed into playoff seasons and for each squad, early playoff exits. After capturing a Region II championship with a win over Park View, Handley fell to Bruton in the state semifinals, one game away from playing for a Virginia state championship. Harrisonburg's season, meanwhile, ended in the regional playoffs at the hands of Amherst, the school that would fall to eventual state champion Broad Run.
Both teams fell short of their goals, which means on Saturday both teams will be hungry to start off 2010 on the right foot. The Judges will feature running back/linebacker Delroy McDaniel, who will likely shoulder the load on offense and be the Judges' spark on defense. McDaniel showed some impressive skills during Handley's scrimmage against Loudoun County last month, and will need to bring those same skills with him Saturday in order to be effective against the Blue Streaks.
And while McDaniel helps shore up a Judges rushing attack, Handley's quarterback situation isn't quite as clear. Both junior Harrison Bayliss and senior Josiah Patrick have been battling for the starting spot, but either should be able to command Handley's offense.
The Blue Streaks visit the Handley Bowl with a relatively inexperienced offensive line, as four of last year's starters are gone from the unit. Returning, however, is senior Landon Turner, who has committed to play football at the University of North Carolina in 2011.
"He's one of our captains," Sarver said. "So he's a vocal guy and he's done a good job with dealing with the new guys on the line."
The offensive line's maturation will be key for what Harrisonburg features in its backfield, in the form of running back Michael Holmes, who rushed for more than 2,700 yards last season. According to Sarver, Holmes is the "complete package," boasting a balance of speed and power that will force McDaniel and the rest of the Judges to be on their toes.
Saturday will mark the beginning of the season for both teams, each looking to take last year's success and advance a few steps further. It won't be easy, however. Both teams know their opponent is just as determined as they are.
"[Handley] always has a good ballclub," Sarver said. "You've got to be impressed with what they're doing. They've got a good back in McDaniel, and their defense is very quick. It'll be a big challenge for our young linemen."
Massanutten Military Academy at Quantico
Coach Chris Gilliland makes his debut as the Colonels look to avenge last season's 16-12 loss to Quantico. Offensive linemen Cole Spillar and Will Bard will anchor MMA's talented offense.
Millbrook at Park View
The sting of last week's loss to Briar Woods has to linger with the Pioneers, but Millbrook can't lose focus with its first road test of the season. In Week 1 the Pioneers' defense was able to force two fumbles, and coach Reed Prosser will look for his defense to play with the same fire tonight against a Park View team also searching for its first win of the year.
Sherando at Musselman
Despite 174 yards on the ground last week, Sherando had to hold off a fierce comeback attempt from Park View for a 35-32 win. Tonight, the Warriors travel to Musselman, where Appleman senior linebacker Thomas Martin will look to halt Sherando's dangerous rushing attack.
Tuscarora at Warren County
Gage Steele's junior campaign got off to an impressive start in Week 1, as the running back racked up more than 200 yards and three touchdowns in a comfortable win over Strasburg. Tonight, however, another foe stands in the way, as first-year program Tuscarora will look to slow down Steele and the rest of the Wildcats' offense.
Washington at James Wood
A strong start to the 2009 season ended with losses in four of James Wood's final five games, leaving the Colonels thirsty for improvement in 2010. They'll get their chance to quench that thirst tonight as they welcome Washington for their season opener. Last year, James Wood handled the Patriots, 35-19.
Hedgesville at Clarke County
Last week's 49-7 win over Berkeley Springs may have shown that despite significant losses to the Eagles' offense from a year ago, the boys at Clarke County are still firing on all cylinders in 2010. Tonight the Eagles host Hedgesville, a team Clarke County defeated 46-7 in Berryville last year.
Skyline at Strasburg
For Skyline, fourth-year coach Heath Gilbert is looking to take the Hawks back into the postseason, and a win over the Rams tonight would put Skyline on the right path toward that goal. Defensive linemen Luke Pingley and Alex Nickens look to return to form from a year ago, but Strasburg's quarterback duo of Michael Reynolds and Hunter Funk aim to bring the Rams' record to the .500 mark.
Manassas Park at Central
While other teams in the Shenandoah District relied on a heavy rushing attack last season, the Falcons turned to quarterback Matt Sherfey to lead his team through the air. This year, Sherfey is back and looking to lead the Falcons to another successful season, which begins with a visit from Manassas Park tonight, a team that fell to Central, 27-17, a year ago.
Stonewall Jackson at Wilson Memorial
An 0-3 start to last season put the Generals in an early hole, a deficit this year's squad hopes doesn't repeat itself. Junior quarterback John-Michael Pirtle returns to lead Stonewall's offense, while a cast of returning players on the defensive side of the ball will look to slow down Wilson Memorial, a team that defeated the Generals, 26-17, last year.