Skyline rallies to beat Judges
FRONT ROYAL – This week, Skyline head football coach Heath Gilbert had talked about how he wanted this one for his seniors.
Certainly, the pregame festivities introducing various seniors and their families and friends from the Hawks’ fall sports was inspiring, but so were the words the Skyline coaches shared with their players.
Those concerned a departed senior, former Skyline football player Keith Sanker, who died in an ATV mishap on Aug. 11.
Sanker, 19, had graduated from Skyline in 2015; however, he was among the all-time most popular Hawks.
Gilbert looked at the scoreboard Friday night that read Skyline 33, Handley 27, and said, “You know it’s kind of ironic there are 33 points up there. That was Keith’s number.”
A number of players said that words from Hawk assistant Tony Clingerman were also helpful. His, son, sophomore Ty, made an interception for the Hawks that sealed the deal. It was their first Northwestern District victory this year (1-2) and second overall against six setbacks.
Handley came into the game at 0-1 in the district, 1-6 overall and lost an emotional showdown between football squads from Front Royal and Winchester. Skyline beat the Judges last year at Handley Bowl.
“We weren’t going to let Handley take this one. Not on this night,” said junior Quentin Diggs, whose job it was to run out the clock after the Clingerman pick.
“Coach had faith in me and I knew I could do it,” said Diggs (22 carries, 116 yards). The coaches used Diggs to run out of the shotgun as well as line up in the backfield.
For a pair of teams needing near miracles to earn playoff spots, this was a spirited, relatively clean game between two teams needing victories badly.
Handley has lost seven straight; Skyline snapped a five-game losing streak.
“It’s been a tough year for us,” said Gilbert. “You know these players – these seniors – could have said this is (not good). We quit. But we asked them to trust the process, and that’s what they did.”
Though Skyline’s overall record may not show it, one thing the Hawks have been able to do this season was throw the ball down the field.
Junior quarterback Ryan Scott was on target against a Judges defense that had allowed more than 1,000 yards passing in the previous seven games.
Scott completed 10 of 13 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the speedy set of receivers Gilbert has at his disposal were outstanding.
Luis Garcia, a senior, caught three balls for 44 yards, running back Tucker Fortney caught one for 41; Trenton King hauled in three Scott Spirals for 87 yards and a score.
Senior Steven Timbers also grabbed a long pass for a touchdown.
“You know we have some players and they showed that tonight,” said Gilbert.
Handley got on the board seconds into the game after Skyline fumbled the opening kickoff on its own 20. Running back Michael Brown (12 rushes, 102 yards) was the beneficiary of a Judges line that was finally healthy. He plowed to his right side and made a cut for a 20-yard scoring run. The conversion failed and the Judges led 6-0 three seconds into the game.
But the Hawks answered. They got the ball at their 27 and mixed the run with the pass on their way to a 73-yard scoring possession. Diggs, running out of the ‘gun, went over from the 1. The conversion failed at 4:47 in the first quarter, but at least the home team had tied it.
The Hawks got a surprise score when a Handley fumble led to a 23-yard recovery return by senior Max Meador. The Hawks led 13-6, 13 seconds into the second quarter.
“You know that number ’33’ means something to all of us,” said the big lineman as fans and family shot pictures of the team’s seniors on the field at Skyline Stadium after the game.
“That was exciting. I’ve never scored before,” he said.
Following the Skyline lineman’s long rumble, scoring was accentuated. Scott was able to find junior running back Tucker Fortney running in the middle of the field for a 41-yard pickup to the Hawk 48.
On the next play, though, Judges cornerback Kevin Curry jumped a second straight Scott pass. The defender hauled it 48 yards the other way for a Handley 6. Aidan Marshall’s kick was good for a 13-13 with 8:47 remaining in the half.
But the Hawks were hunting. Sophomore Caleb Reedy had a lengthy kickoff return to set up Scott’s next play. On cue, the 6-foot-2, 185 pounder went over the top of Handley’s defensive backs. Steven Timbers caught the ball on the run and raced for a lengthy touchdown catch. The Hawks had assumed a 19-13 lead with 8:31 to go before halftime intermission.
The smooth-throwing Skyline signal-caller completed eight balls among his 10 first-half passes for 114 yards and a touchdown.
It was Handley’s turn in the back-and-forth affair. The Judges started their drive for 6 points from their own 38. The Judges used a heavy dose of Brown on the 42-yard scoring drive. But quarterback Nick Hott connected with Diontre Bell for the 5-yard touchdown pass. Marshall’s extra point kick was good and the Judges were back in the lead 20-19 with 3:20 left in the half.
“It was a good game,” Gilbert said. “Back-and-forth.”
Christian Moten (20 carries, 116 yards) spelled Brown and suddenly became the basis of the Handley progression. After a few short gains he rambled through the Hawks defense for 46 yards and Handley’s first touchdown of the second half. Marshall’s kick made it 27-19 Judges with 10:35 showing in the third quarter.
Back came Skyline. With Diggs operating out of the shotgun, he pounded for 12 yards to the Handley 23 for a first down. On the ensuing snap, he broke the plain of the line and then scurried untouched past the Judges’ secondary on a 23-yard run. The 2-point conversion tied this one up at 27 with 8:18 showing in the third quarter.
Just like they had done in the third quarter the Hawks ushered in the fourth with a score. Scott rolled right and lofted a pass to King, who broke a tackle and raced 80 yards for the touchdown catch. An attempt for 2 failed but the Hawks led 33-27 with 9:32 to go in the back-and-forth game.
The game settled into a chess match between Gilbert and his counterpart on the Handley sideline, head coach John Davis, as each one beckoned for field position.
The Judges found themselves with third-and-10 on the Hawk 23 when Gilbert called one more timeout. The clock showed 95 seconds left in the game.
Clingerman stepped in front of a Handley receiver in the shadow of the goal posts. The ball was thrown by Handley quarterback Jacob Parker, who was playing his first snaps since earlier in the season.
“That was great,” Meador said,” the way it should end.”
Skyline 6 7 14 6-33
Handley 6 8 13 0–27
H: Brown 20 run (conversion failed) 11:57
S: Diggs 1 run (conversion failed) 4:47
S: Meador 28 fumble recovery (conversion good) 11:47
H: Curry 48 interception return (kick good) 8:47
S: Timbers reception (kick good) 8:31
H: Bell 5 run (kick good) 3:20
H: Moten 46 run (kick good) 10:35
S: Diggs 23 run (conversion good) 8:18
S: Timbers 80 pass from Scott (conversion failed) 9:32
First downs 14-14
Rushing yards 122-213
Passing yards 264-101
Comp-Att-Int 10-13-1 5-14-2
Penalties 7-83 5-30
RUSHING-Skyline: Scott 8-6, Diggs 22-116; Handley: Brown 13-102, James 1-(-2), Parker 1 (-3).
PASSING-Skyline Scott 10-13, 194 yards, 2 touchdowns: Handley: Hott 5-10-4, 101 yards, 1 touchdown, Parker 0-4-1.
RECEIVING-Skyline: Garcia 3-44, Fortney 1-41, King 3-87, Diggs 1-(-4), Timbers 1-60, Hartzell 2-33 Handley: Walker 1-55, Curry 2-32, J. Davenport 1-12, Bell 1-5.