WINCHESTER — Handley’s football opponents seem to have a new strategy on offense — find Judges standout defensive end Stephen Daley and run the other way.
On Saturday against Skyline, Rodd’ney Davenport and Nasir Nix proved that rushing the opposite direction isn’t a guarantee of success, either. Davenport forced two fumbles, one of which Daley returned for a score, had a safety and a sack as he and Nix fueled a 56-13 victory against the Hawks.
Daley rushed for three touchdowns, while Emerson Fusco had a 26-yard run and an 85-yard kickoff return for scores for the Judges (4-0). Quarterback Davion Butler threw for 195 yards, including a scoring strike to Jacob Duffy, on a steamy afternoon at James R. Wilkins Jr. Stadium.
Aidan Vaught rushed for 148 yards on 22 carries, including a 77-yard touchdown run, against a Handley defense that had given up just 286 total rushing yards in its first three games. Blake Appleton also tossed a 61-yard touchdown pass in the final quarter.
The Hawks played for the first time since Week 1 after facing a COVID-19 quarantine.
“It was definitely the weirdest part of my coaching career with this,” Skyline coach Heath Gilbert said. “Certainly that was a factor, but it’s not an excuse. America is dealing with COVID. It’s part of our life right now and we just have to try to overcome it.”
After Daley forced two fumbles and had three sacks in the Judges’ first two games, the next two opponents (Spotswood and Skyline) decided to test the other Handley linemen.
“He’s a next-level guy,” Gilbert said of Daley, who is headed to Division I Kent State. “Running our head into a wall wasn’t part of our game plan. We wanted to try to move our offense away from him.”
Davenport said he and his teammates are taking that scenario as a challenge.
“If they run away from Stephen, they know he’s good,” the 6-foot, 285-pound junior said. “It’s an insult to us because you should be running away from all of us.”
Davenport set the stage early in the contest. The Judges fumbled from the Skyline 2 on their first possession and Judd Schuman recovered at the 4.
After one play lost two yards, Davenport shucked a block and grabbed Skyline’s Dustin Gue in the end zone for a safety.
The Judges scored the next two touchdowns. Daley’s 50-yard catch and run with a screen pass set up his own three-yard TD run to make it 9-0. After Nix dropped Gue for a one-yard loss on a fourth-and-1 from the Skyline 35, Daley scored on a 34-yard run out of the Wildcat to make it 15-0 with 2:36 left in the first quarter.
Skyline didn’t fold though, needing just two plays to bring it back to within a score. On second-and-7 from the Hawks’ 23, Vaught took a handoff on a counter play to the left, found a big hole and then zig-zagged right then left for a 77-yard score to make it 15-7.
It would stay that score for most of the second quarter, until a late surge by Handley. Taking over at the Skyline 33 after a punt, Butler lofted a jump ball to Duffy who wrestled it away from a defensive back at the 2. Izayah Arnoux scored from there to make it 22-7.
Taking over at the 26 after a good punt return from Fusco, Handley scored in three plays, the last another three-yard TD run by Daley to make it 29-7 at the half.
Skyline took the second half kickoff and drove 59 yards to the Judges’ 21. Vaught's 25-yard sweep around the left side and a 16-yard pass from Appleton to Ethan Caperton highlighted the march. But on fourth-and-4 from the 21, Nix brought down Appleton for a yard loss to end the Hawks' threat.
Handley then drove 79 yards. On fourth-and-18 from the Hawks’ 29, Butler scrambled out of the pocket and found Duffy open in the end zone.
Fusco scored from 26 yards out to start the fourth quarter and on Skyline’s next possession Davenport made his presence felt again. He forced a fumble that Daley scooped up at the Skyline 40 and raced down the sidelines for a touchdown that made it 50-7.
“I didn’t even know it was a fumble,” Davenport said. “I was at nose [tackle] and I beat my block and I did everything right. I hit him and I guess instinctively I chopped down and the ball must of come out. Stephen, who didn’t get to have a good game, knowing what he did, that was cool. I got to provide for my teammate like he provides for us time-and-time again.”
That was it for the Handley starters on defense and Appleton took advantage on the Hawks' second play against the reserves. He hit Caperton in stride for the 61-yard TD strike.
On the ensuing kickoff, Fusco broke loose for 85 yards and the game’s final TD.
Gue added 50 yards on 11 carries as the Hawks rushed for 204 yards, the most given up by Handley this season. Appleton was 7 of 13 for 101 yards and Schuman recovered two fumbles.
“We knew that was going to be a tough challenge for us,” Gilbert said. “We just wanted to play as tough as we could.”
The Hawks (0-2) next play at Luray on Friday.