By Tommy Keeler Jr. -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Whatever it takes.
That's been Handley's team motto all season. On Saturday it took a whole lot. It took overcoming four turnovers, two successful Sherando on-side kicks, and a tired defense on the field for three-straight possessions in the fourth quarter.
It took a controversial interception in overtime, which bounced off Handley's Jawaun Goynes' foot and into the hands of teammate Ryan Crawford.
And in the end it took Donovan Varney's 25-yard field goal in overtime to give Handley a 24-21 win over previously undefeated Sherando.
"This is always what I've wanted to do and it finally happened," Varney said. "I was so excited. I've been thinking about this all week."
The Warriors got the ball first in overtime. Sherando's Joseph Ojo was held to only a yard on the first play. On the second play, Sherando quarterback Jalen Brisco attempted a pass, but it was tipped by Handley's Derek Dowrey, bounced off Goynes' foot and right to Crawford. The referees gathered and quickly called it an interception.
"[Brisco] dropped back to pass and I dropped back with him," Crawford said. "Derek tipped the ball and Jawaun was in the right place -- it hit his foot. I could tell something was different because the noise it made sounded different than it does when it hits the turf. I saw the ball bounce up and caught it and they blew it dead.
"I was upset at first. Then I was glad they realized it was an interception like it was -- I was so happy."
"I was on the line of scrimmage and I saw him throw," Dowrey said. "I saw it was kind of a low pass, so I just jumped -- I put my hand up. It hit me right in between my shoulder pad and my hand."
Sherando coach Bill Hall didn't see things quite the same as the referees.
"I saw the ball bounce off the ground. I don't know what else you can say on it," Hall said. "Unfortunately, we don't have instant replay. It is what it is. A ballgame is more than one play.
"We're not going to blame it on one play. It is what it is and that's part of football."
After the turnover, Handley started its possession at the 10. Handley quarterback Harrison Bayliss centered the ball in the middle of the field on a two-yard run and Varney then came on for the 25-yard field goal.
Sherando (6-1, 1-1 Northwestern) called a timeout, but it didn't faze Varney as he drilled it through the uprights. He was then mobbed by teammates and carried off the field.
"I knew the line would hold up for us," Varney said. "They had a good rush, but our line held. Harrison [Bayliss] held it right. It was all good."
Handley had a chance at the end of regulation to win the game. They used eight plays to go 69 yards in the final minutes. They drove down to the Sherando 11 with 15 seconds left. Handley coach Tony Rayburn elected to run the ball one last time, but Trae Peck fumbled at the Sherando 8 on another controversial call by the referees. Sherando ran two plays and sent the game into overtime.
In overtime, Rayburn said he wasn't taking any chances and that he was confident Varney would make it.
"Before we ran the first play, I went over to Donovan and said, 'If we run it on this one, are you going to kick it on the next one?' And he said, 'Yes,'" Rayburn said. "I liked the way he said it so we put him in and he put it right through."
The Judges (4-3, 1-0) overcame a slow start in the first half. With Sherando leading 7-0 early in the second quarter, the Warriors drove to the Handley 6. The Judges' defense stiffened up. On fourth-and-goal from the Handley 1, Judges sophomore Michael Valle-Rodriguez stuffed Sherando's Tre Porter for a two-yard loss.
Handley's offense then came alive. The Judges used an 11-play, 97-yard drive to tie the game. Trae Peck took it in from the 1 with 1:50 left in the first half.
Bayliss did the bulk of the work on the drive with both his arm and his feet. He ran four times on option plays for 35 yards. The junior, making his first start this season for the Judges, also went 3-for-3 on the drive through the air for 58 yards.
After forcing a three-and-out on Sherando's opening possession of the second half, Handley junior Daquanta Pannell returned the punt 81 yards to put the Judges up 14-7 with 9:33 left in the third quarter. The Judges extended the lead to 21-7 on a 1-yard touchdown run by Bayliss.
Sherando battled back in the fourth quarter. Sherando's Brady Cook intercepted a Bayliss pass and returned it to the Handley 15 with 8:41 left. Four plays later, Ojo ran it in from the 5, but Sherando kicker Justin Haines missed the extra point, after Dowrey tipped it, to make it 21-13 with 8:18 remaining.
Hall then decided to take a chance. He called a pooch onside-kick and it worked, giving the Warriors the ball at the Handley 33.
Two plays later, Ojo scored again on a 20-yard touchdown run. Brisco connected with Dominique Porter on the two-point conversion to tie the game at 21 with 6:40 left. The Warriors then recovered another pooch onside-kick at the Handley 47.
"We had the wind advantage for us," Hall said. "We wanted to take advantage of it."
The Judges' defense was clearly wearing down. Handley, which uses more players two-ways than Sherando does, had to stay on the field for defense for a third consecutive possession.
"It was so tiring and demoralizing," Dowrey said. "It tired me out. I was just whipped. Our motto all week was whatever it takes. So that's just what we kept saying in our heads and we said it to everybody. Whatever it takes that's what we were going to do get this win."
Sherando was able to move the ball to the Handley 18. However, the Judges were able to force the Warriors into a fourth-and-8, and Hall elected to try a field goal. However, Haines' 25-yard attempt fell short.
"Handley is a very good ballclub," Hall said. "The way we responded to [adversity] says a lot about our guys. We just can't wait for those situations to happen. We gotta put our fourth-quarter effort out there for four quarters."
Handley is getting used to overcoming adversity. After an 0-3 start, the Judges have bounced back with four-straight wins, but none bigger than beating their county and district rival.
"[After the 0-3 start] None of us on the entire team ever stopped believing in each other," Dowrey said. "Every single one of these guys fought. We've just fought week after week and it's paying off for us lately. Hopefully we can continue doing that. Our mindset has not changed since the beginning of the season."