It was a preseason jamboree in the middle of August. So no, not every question that Handley has at the start of the 2023 season was answered. But any fears about who would be the running back after the graduation of Jay Haynes can probably be put to rest, the revamped secondary did the job against two solid quarterbacks and the receivers even made a handful of plays that showed promise at that position.
Handley came away with a 26-14 win over 1A Coosa Christian and a 22-3 victory over 6A Pell City (and new coach Rush Propst) on a night when the Tigers made plenty of big plays in all three phases of the game.
Here’s what we saw in regards to some of the questions about the 2023 Handley Tigers:
Handley head coach Larry Strain’s buzzword all offseason when it comes to the running back position has been “committee,” and that’s pretty the way it played out Thursday – kind of.
E.J. Goss was the workhorse, rushing 17 times for 96 yards and two touchdowns over the jamboree’s four quarters. But his longest run of the night was 16 yards. The big play in the run game came from sophomore Ja’marcus Daniel, who exploded for a 47-yard touchdown run against Coosa Christian and finished with 73 yards on five carries for the night.
K.D. Lee also got four carries, but that was it for the first-stringers. Nemo Askew – a senior who was expected to be in the mix at running back – did not get a carry on offense, but made an impact in other ways (more on that in a moment).
It’s a new group, and they were helped out by some stout play on the defensive line of scrimmage. But the first pass thrown against Handley Thursday turned into an interception by Jay Heath. And the Tigers ended up snagging a total of three picks, with fellow new starter Montrevious Black getting one, and veteran linebacker Amajah Williams getting the other.
In all, Handley’s pass defense held the two opposing quarterbacks to a total of 10-for-28 passing for 102 yards, and no touchdowns. That’s a pretty solid debut for a mostly untested back end.
Good heavens, the pass rush. Handley absolutely unloaded, particularly in the win over Pell City. The Tigers came up with six sacks in two quarters. Ladarious Johnson, Williams, Jamerion Hunter and Daquavian Slaughter all got in on the action, completely shutting down the Pell City passing attack after they started the game with three straight completions.
This phase of the game wasn’t much of a question mark coming into the season, but their outstanding performance necessitated a mention.
Handley fell behind Pell City 3-0 after the game’s first possession and the Tigers seemed a little unsure of themselves. But that feeling was short-lived after Nemo Askew’s explosive 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown put Handley ahead on the ensuing kickoff. It was the second kick returned for a score after Slaughter picked up a Coosa Christian pooch kick and blasted through the coverage for a 56-yard touchdown.
Handley had some butter fingers in the kick game, including a muffed punt that led to a turnover. But in all that facet of the game was a net strength for the Tigers.
This group is still a work in progress, but Thurday’s game was encouraging. Quarterback Cannon Kyles completed 6-of-10 passes for 58 yards and two touchdowns, and those six completions went to six different receivers.
The biggest play of the night in the passing game was a 30-yard strike for a touchdown to Kamari Knight, who made an over the shoulder catch and tap-danced inside the end zone boundary to make the contested reception in bounds against Pell City.
Kyles also ripped a 15-yard strike into the hands of Trustin Phillips against Coosa Christian.
Handley’s defensive front has a chance to be absolutely elite, with guys like T’Marion Phillips and Raquavion Paige also making an impact Thursday.
With a veteran offensive line in front of him, Kyles looks comfortable in this offense, even as the playmakers around him work to establish themselves.
Handley will be tested with three tough games right out of the gate, starting with next week’s season opener at Valley, but Thursday’s performance should go a long way toward getting the Tigers ready for that early-season challenge.
Beulah 55, Woodland 16
Woodland salvaged a couple of positives after a rough first half against Beulah in which they fell behind 49-0 in Thursday’s preseason contest between the two teams.
Woodland ended up losing 55-16 after the Bobcats got a 21-yard touchdown run by Malakai Drummond and a 51-yard touchdown pass from Callen Gay to Garrett Hendrix in the third quarter.
Woodland will open the season next week at home against Victory Christian.