Hawks hoping to bounce back in road game at Handley

Skyline's Luis Garcia looks to the official as he hauls in a touchdown pass during fourth quarter action on Sept. 8 against James Wood. The Hawks travel to Handley on Saturday. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Skyline High School’s football team let one get away in an overtime loss to James Wood last week, and the Class 3 Hawks now seek to bounce back against yet another Class 4 Northwestern District foe this weekend.

Skyline (1-2) travels to John Handley (1-2) for a district contest at 1 p.m. today at the Handley Bowl. The Hawks are eager to erase the memory of last week’s loss, during which they blew a 14-point lead and tied the game in the final seconds with a clutch drive only to fall six points short in the extra frame.

“We have to move forward,” Hawks head coach Heath Gilbert said after practice on Thursday. “Unfortunately,  it played out the way it did. We had a chance to steal that game. The positive is we fought so hard to get back in it and made some great plays at the end of the game. … But we’ve moved on. Our focus is on Handley, for sure. It has to be.”

One of Skyline’s two wins in 2016 came against Handley, as the Hawks created some timely turnovers in a 33-27 win in Front Royal. Gilbert said Thursday that it’s going to take “great effort” to repeat that outcome on the road Saturday afternoon.

The Judges, who will celebrate homecoming against the Hawks, have lost two straight games since opening the season with a 14-13 win over Warren County. Handley fell 41-20 to Harrisonburg in Week 2 and 31-10 against Clarke County in its home opener last week.

The Judges gave up over 300 yards rushing to Clarke County’s run-heavy single-wing offense and now face a Skyline team that lost starting running back Quentin Diggs to a sprained ankle in the first quarter last week. Diggs won’t play Saturday, Gilbert said.

Tucker Fortney mustered just 25 yards rushing on 10 carries after Diggs went down against James Wood.

Skyline’s offense runs through senior quarterback Ryan Scott, a dual threat who has thrown for 554 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for 241 yards and two TDs. He’s been the Hawks’ leading rusher in all three of their games so far this season.

Scott also has a pair of reliable targets on the perimeter in senior receivers Trenton King (14 catches, 211 yards, four touchdowns) and Luis Garcia (12 receptions, 176 yards, one touchdown).

Gilbert said the Judges show a variety of coverages from a defensive backfield that features plenty of speed.

“They do different man-to-man pressures that they have that cause your protection some issues. They’re willing to go cover zero, which means they’re gonna bring one more than you can block,” Gilbert said. “Certainly their scheme is diverse and we gotta be ready. We gotta make sure we’re in the right play or we could get hit.”

Garcia, who caught a late touchdown pass and the game-tying 2-point conversion with three seconds left in the fourth quarter against James Wood, said he anticipates a challenge from Handley’s athletic secondary.

“I’ve been watching their DBs, how they play,” Garcia said. “Sometimes they press up, which sometimes it’s hard to get off, especially when you’re in stack because you’ve gotta talk to the person behind you, so you gotta go left, you gotta go right. If we can hit the routes and hit our slants and stuff like that. It’ll be good. It’ll be a good matchup between both teams.”

Skyline’s defense, which is allowing 398.6 yards per game, gave up 288 yards rushing to James Wood and has been gashed for 306.3 yards on the ground per game so far.

Handley senior running back Christian Moten has rushed for over 300 yards in the Judges’ first three games, and he brings the power to what Gilbert called a “nice little thunder and lightning package” in Handley’s backfield alongside sophomore Malachi Imoh.

“(Handley has) a lot of speed, so holding the edge is going to be important,” said Fortney, also the Hawks’ starting middle linebacker. “I think if we can do that we can win.”

The Judges also boast a veteran offensive line led by senior Bobby Teahan – a Howard University commit – a three-year starter in junior quarterback Jacob Parker and a dynamic perimeter threat in junior Kevin Curry.

“Offensively Curry obviously stands out. He can just, he flat out high points, makes a great-type catch it seems like every week, so we know that’s gonna happen,” Gilbert said. “We just have to hopefully tackle him and not let that great catch turn into a touchdown.”

Gilbert referred back to the Hawks’ win over Broadway last season – when the Hawks allowed 15 receptions to Gobblers receiver Davis Peltonen but limited him to 7.5 yards per catch – when discussing how to defend Curry.

“We were able to keep it in front of us. Hopefully we can do something similar to that against (Handley), not give up the big touchdown kill plays, the big-shot plays,” he said.

Skyline enters its bye week following Saturday’s contest.

“We’ve just gotta find a way to hopefully be 2-2,” Gilbert said. “We’re going into a bye week and if we can get a big win like this against a quality team like Handley, that would be great for our confidence moving into the second half of our season.”