Hawks defeat Judges
By Tommy Keeler Jr.
FRONT ROYAL — Jamal Parker remembered what happened in last year’s Senior Night, and the Skyline senior was determined to not walk off the field with a loss on his Senior Night.
Parker and his fellow seniors stepped up and made big play after big play to lead Skyline to a 35-28 Northwestern District win over Handley on Friday night.
“This is a huge win,” Parker said. “Senior Night last year we lost to Sherando, who were obviously state runners-up, because they were good but [we lost 55-0]. We knew this team was good, and our seniors we really wanted it, and our juniors and sophomores they wanted it for us. So they all came out and played hard.”
Parker certainly did his part with four receptions for 142 yards, including a go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter. However, it was an interception by senior defensive back Hunter Partlowe that keyed the win.
With the game tied at 28-28, Partlowe intercepted a pass from Handley quarterback Will Dearing at the Handley 25-yard line and returned it to the 17 with 3:52 left in the game.
“Clutch interception by Hunter. It was beautiful,” Parker said. “The defense played great. We were worried that their offense would be too quick, but we were able to contain it enough to win the game.
“[Skyline linebacker] Gerren [Butler] was yelling the whole game ‘we’re best when our backs against the wall,’ and I think we proved that here tonight.”
The Hawks needed only five plays to score the game-winning touchdown as Jerrius Baltimore ran it in from the 7-yard line to give the Hawks a 35-28 lead with 50 seconds left.
The defense stepped up again on the ensuing drive, as Ronnie Clifton knocked the ball out of Dearing’s hands and David Heisler recovered for the Hawks to seal the win.
Skyline coach Heath Gilbert said they knew going into the game that they had to put pressure on Dearing, and they were able to do that enough to get the win.
“We knew if Dearing was going to be able to sit back there, he was going to eat us up,” Gilbert said. “They’re too good for that, and hats off to our kids for getting there.”
The Hawks (7-2, 3-0 Northwestern) trailed 21-13 at the half, giving up a few big plays to Handley, but making enough to keep the game close.
Skyline senior Bradley Carson recovered a fumble at the Skyline 39-yard line with 6:54 left in the third quarter to give the Hawks some momentum.
“I just saw it and I just dove for it,” Carson said. “It was beautiful.”
Skyline used 10 plays to go 61 yards. Skyline quarterback Corban Ruch, who ran for 44 yards on the drive, ran it in from the 8-yard line on an option read. His two-point conversion pass to Parker tied the game at 21-21 with 1:48 left in the third quarter.
“Corban Ruch has been on another level,” Gilbert said. “He’s elevated his game. He was amazing out there — his throws and his keeps on the option. That’s the piece that’s really elevated us, I believe, offensively over the last three or four weeks.”
On Skyline’s next possession, Ruch connected with Parker for a 69-yard touchdown pass with 10:47 left in the game, to give the Hawks a 28-21 lead.
“Jamal made a great play on the ball,” Ruch said. “He ran a great route, got behind the defender and he got wide open. So I saw him and I knew I had to lay it up to him, and he made a great run after the catch, too.”
Parker said his feet got tangled with a Handley defender on the play, which gave him some room for the catch-and-score.
“[The Handley defender], tripped over me, which I’m just lucky I didn’t trip,” Parker said. “Then great ball placement, right where I needed it, and then after I caught it, it was just open field.”
The Judges came right back on the ensuing drive, as Dearing threw a dart in the corner of the end zone to Justin Washington for a 9-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 28-28 with 7:49 left in the game.
Ruch threw for 229 yards and one touchdown pass, while also rushing for 84 yards on 17 carries.
The Hawks will now play at Sherando next week in the regular-season finale with the Northwestern District title on the line. Parker said the win over Handley was one he’ll savor for a while.
“I’m ecstatic. It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Parker said. “I’ll probably start crying later. I’ve been playing here so long, it’s my last [regular season] home game on this field. It’s incredible.”