By Tommy Keeler Jr.
FRONT ROYAL -- Skyline's pass defense struggled a little bit in the second half, but the Hawks' offense wasn't about to let their lead slip away. A win over Handley meant too much.
The Hawks came up with several big plays on offense when they needed it to defeat the Judges 42-31 on Friday night. It was Senior Night, and it was the first win over Handley in school history. After the victory, the team even tried unsuccessfully to douse Skyline coach Heath Gilbert with a bucket of water.
"This is a great feeling," Skyline's Dayvon Haight said. "We'd never beaten these guys before and it was Senior Night, so it means a lot to the team."
The Hawks' offense started off slowly with four consecutive punts on three-and-outs. In the second quarter, it only took one play for the Hawks to get things going.
Haight took a short pass from quarterback Aaron Jeremiah and ran 53 yards for the touchdown with 9:43 left in the first half.
"I just got the ball, and my line did a nice job blocking, and then a receiver made a block and I was able to run it in," Haight said.
On the Hawks' next possession, Jeremiah connected on another screen pass to Kylmen Breeden, who broke a few tackles and sprinted down the sideline 50 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 2:46 left in the half.
Both offenses really got things going in the second half. Handley used a six-play, 62-yard drive to cut the Hawks' lead to 14-10, on a 38-yard pass from Will Dearing to Jarett Cestaro.
The Hawks responded quickly. Hunter Stewart's kick return, and a Handley penalty moved the ball to the Handley 13. Haight ran it in on the next play to give the Hawks a 21-10 lead.
Handley needed only one play to cut the lead to four again. Dearing found Washington in the middle of the field, and the sophomore made a cutback and ran it in for a 72-yard touchdown with 8:47 left in the third quarter.
"Offensively this was by far the best game we've played this year," Handley coach Tony Rayburn said. "Skyline's a really good team and has a very good defense. We had a lot of young players grow up tonight."
The Hawks continued to use their quick-strike offense to stay ahead of the Judges. Jeremiah took a quarterback keeper and went down the left sideline for a 60-yard touchdown.
Chris Grady added a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Hawks a 35-17 lead with 2:37 left in the third quarter, but the Judges kept battling.
A pair of 6-yard touchdown runs by Dontae Mauck and Dearing cut the lead to 35-31 with 6:50 left in the game.
Once again the Hawks' offense came up big. Facing a third-and-4 at the Handley 17, Haight ran for 16 yards for a first down. He ran it in for the final touchdown on the next play to put the game out of reach.
"The hole was open and I just tried to get the first down," Haight said of his third-down run. "I just wanted to help us run the clock down."
Dearing finished the game 21 for 39 for 359 yards passing, and helped a Handley offense that had been shut out two consecutive games.
"He was one of the guys that grew up," Rayburn said of Dearing. "I couldn't ask for anything more from him or his receivers or the line that was protecting him. It was fun to watch. After all the work that he's put in this season and to see it pay it off like that."
The win keeps the Hawks undefeated in the district. Last year the Hawks were tied for the district title, but this year they want to have it outright, which a win over Sherando next will give them.
"This has been a goal of ours all season," Gilbert said. "We want to win it all to ourselves. We've been working hard all season to put us in this position to get it. We know Sherando's a really good team.
"We can't wait for this game."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org