By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Handley's defense was shell-shocked.
Only one minute into Saturday's Region II, Division 3 title game with Warren County, the Judges' defense, which has been stellar most of the season, had already given up seven points. The short drive by the Wildcats made the Judges mad and was just the wake-up call they needed.
"That let us know that we needed to stop goofing around and get down to serious business," Handley senior Delroy McDaniel said. "We remembered what was at stake and like I said last week we wasn't ready to go home."
The Wildcats began the game at the Handley 39, after a 45-yard kickoff return by Warren County's Darius Turner. Warren County needed only three plays to go the 39 yards, but the Judges' defense stiffened after that in a big way.
Handley held Warren County to only 45 yards for the rest of the first three quarters en route to the 49-20 win. After giving up the opening touchdown, Trae Peck's 79-yard touchdown run on the next play also helped give Handley's defense and the entire team new life.
"I think we settled down after the first drive, got used to what they were doing," Handley coach Tony Rayburn said of his team's defense. "It picked our spirits up when [Peck] made that nice big play."
One of the keys to Handley's defense was the play of Dexter Sloane. The junior had two sacks and was constantly running around after Warren County quarterback Tyler Post.
Sloane also caused a fumble on a fake punt by the Wildcats late in the first quarter.
"It's not just his ability, it's his energy," Rayburn said. "He's just a playmaker."
Warren County coach Tony Tallent said he believes Sloane may be the best defensive player in the region and that he caused a lot of problems for the Wildcats' offense.
"We just didn't have a lot of answers for him," Tallent said.
Sloane has had some of his best games in Handley's biggest games this season and Saturday's regional final was no exception.
Sloane's ability to get to quarterbacks so quickly forces them to make quick decisions, and, a lot of times, bad decisions.
While opponents don't like playing against Sloane, his teammates love to watch him cause havoc on the opposing offenses.
"I love playing with Dexter," Handley junior defensive lineman Derek Dowrey said. "He's in the back of the quarterback's mind thinking 'uh-oh Dexter's coming. I gotta be thinking about Dexter.' It's great to have a quarterback second guessing himself when you have a great pass rusher like that."
When the Wildcats and Judges played in the regular season, the game was close throughout the first half, before Handley was able to pull away for the 35-7 win. The Judges wanted to make sure they didn't let the Wildcats hang around this time and led 35-7 at the half Saturday.
"Last game we played hard, but we didn't play as hard as we could the whole game," Sloane said.
Rayburn said he was pleased with how the team played, but there was still room for some improvement.
When asked if Saturday's game was one of the Judges best defensive performances, Sloane had a short but positive answer.
"Yes, but there's more to come, hopefully," he said.