Wildcats rely on defense in win

FRONT ROYAL — Key defensive plays early and late salvaged an important opening season victory for Warren County on Friday night, as the Wildcats took the measure of Handley, 27-17, in a non-district win.

There was a time when these rivals from Front Royal and Winchester played each other every year when both were members of the Northwestern District. The rivalry, which began in 1944, lay dormant since 2010 when the two schools met twice – once in the regular season and again in the playoffs.

The Judges (0-1) owned an all-time advantage in the fray 55-11-1 heading into this one, but the Wildcats (1-0), now members of the Bull Run District were determined to move the ledger in their favor on this night.

“We had individual kids who made those plays, but really it was just a team effort. Individual guys make plays but it takes each member of the team doing their jobs,” said Warren head coach Steve Crist.

On the night, Handley turned the ball over three times, while the hosts were whistled 12 times for 75 yards of penalties

In the end, the Judges’ miscues, combined with a near-perfect night from Warren quarterback Robert Rutherford, proved the difference. Robert, the senior twin-brother of Wildcat running back Joseph Rutherford, completed 13-of-14 passes for 115 yards and one score.

Receiver Cam Ford hauled in 10 of those balls for 82 yards.

Handley took an early lead with 7:40 showing in the first quarter when receiver Chris Moten took a pitch from quarterback Matt Elliott and thundered 57 yards for the opening TD. Aidan Marshall’s kick was no good.

Warren County answered on its subsequent possession. After quarterback Robert Rutherford (7-for-7 for 70 yards in the first half) found receiver Ford on a nine-yard screen to the Wildcat 33, Robert Rutherford carried around left end for a 67-yard TD sprint. Stuart Ashley’s point-after missed. The score was tied with 6:38 showing in the first.

Warren went on top late in the period on a six-play, 80-yard drive. The big event was a connection between Robert Rutherford and Ford again. On this one, Ford stretched high in the middle of the field and sprang 34 yards to the Handley 38. Joseph Rutherford carried 10 yards for a first down at the 28; then Joseph Rutherford ripped off a 28-yard run for the score with 53 seconds showing. Ashley this time was good for a 13-6 lead.

The Wildcats’ next score came abruptly. Handley was driving deep into Warren territory when linebacker Daniel Spangler gobbled up a Judges’ fumble on his own 15 and raced 85 yards for the score and a 20-6 lead with 10:32 remaining in the first half.

“It was amazing,” Spangler said. “I saw the ball rolling on the turf and my eyes got wide. Then there was a lot of green in front of me and I knew I had to run. I wasn’t going to let anybody catch me. We’ve worked too hard for that.”

Marshall concluded the scoring on the final play of the half when he connected on a 32-yard field goal and subsequent 20-9 score.

After a scoreless third period, Handley drew first blood in the fourth quarter. After running back Jacob Shade (eight carries, 98 yards) broke tackles on a 42 yard run to the Warren 2-yard line, teammate Daquay Pannell blasted over for the score. Handley coach Tony Rayburn decided to go for two and Sergio Martines complied. The score was 20-17 with 11:29 left in the game.

“I was a little scared after that, but I was confident. We just needed to get the ball back and get a good drive going,” said Spangler.

The Wildcats drove the ball to the Judges’ 16 but turned it over on downs. Big plays along the way included a Joseph Rutherford 14-yard run, in which he reversed field to the Handley 44 and a looping 12-yard pass from Robert Rutherford to Ford that carried to the 19-yard line.

With 5:30 showing in the game, Handley sought to go back up on top for the first time since early in the fracas.

The Judges were cruising along at their own 44 when the Wildcats countered with a pair of defensive plays. First, Joseph Rutherford tipped a ball in the Warren secondary that seemed destined for a Handley receiver. On the next play, junior Brendan McMackin read the Handley quarterback perfectly and tipped Matt Elliott’s pitchout with one hand and fell on the ball.

“It was right there. I had been seeing them do that all night and I knew he was going to do it this time,” said McMackin.

The rangy youngster added insult to injury when on a fourth-and-5 play, he was all alone and brought in a Robert Rutherford pass for the 10-yard icing score. McMackin lunged into the end zone and Ashley’s kick settled things with about two minutes remaining.

“It was a great call by Coach O (Warren County offensive coordinator Adam Orndorff). I was all alone. Robert just needed to get me the ball,” said McMackin.

Box score

Wildcats 27, Judges 17

Handley 6 3 0 8–17

Warren County 13 7 0 7–27

First quarter
H: Moten 57, kick no good 7:40 6-0
WC: Robert Rutherford 67 run, kick no good 6:38 6-6
WC: Joseph Rutherford 28 run, Ashley kick good 13-6

Second quarter
WC: Spangler 85 fumble recovery, Ashley kick good 20-6 10:32
H: Marshall 32 field goal, 20-9 0:00

Fourth quarter
H: Pannell 2 run, Martines two-point conversion, 20-17 11:29
WC: McMackin 10 pass from Robert Rutherford, Ashley good 27-17 2:05


First downs 17 15

Rushes-yards 38-209 25-182

Passing yards 27 115

Passing 7-15-0-0 13-14-0-1

Punts-avg 3-37 5-26

Fumbles-lost 5-3 2-1

Penalties-yards 2-25 12-75

RUSHING: Handley, Shade 8-98 Martines 7-55; Warren, Robert Rutherford 15-94, Joseph Rutherford 10-72

PASSING: Handley, Elliott 7-15-27-0-0; Warren: Robert Rutherford 13-14-0-1, 155.

RECEIVING: Handley, Tactikos 2-10, Ashe 1-13; Warren: Ford, 10-82.