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Last week Results (Nov. 17th)
- BTW 22, Handley 9
- St. James 41, RCHS 6
- Wadley 81, S. Lamar 27
- Mo Winston, RCHS: 17 car., 74 yards, TD
- Jaquez Wilkes, Wadley: 16 car., 187 yards, 3 TD
- Cortavion Lynch, Wadley: 12 car., 190 yards, 3 TD
- Frisco Robertson, Wadley: Int. ret. TD, punt ret. TD
The second-round losses by the two county teams Friday came from two different angles. RCHS was a decided underdog to St. James and could not overcome that status. Handley was the favorite in its game but never truly got it going against a talented upstart in Booker T. Washington. Now the attention for both teams turns to the future, and the outlook for these teams has two separate angles to it as well.
Handley will see 24 seniors depart from this year’s team, and most of those guys were so much more than uniform fillers. When the 2024 season starts Handley will trot out basically an entirely new starting offense. The quarterback (Cannon Kyles), the top two running backs (E.J. Goss, Nemo Askew), the entire offensive line (T’Marion Phillips, LaDarious Johnson, Reid Carden, Eli Gabriel and Koye White) and three of the top five receivers (Montrevious Black, Goss and Amajah Williams) will all be gone. Receiver Daquavian Slaughter, who led the Tigers with 11 catches for 259 yards and three touchdowns will be the only returning full-time starter on offense from this season.
Handley will be okay at the skill positions with Jamarcus Daniel, Ben Pike and some other younger players ready to step in. And Cordan Patterson got a lot of reps this year as the backup quarterback to Kyles, so he should be a prepared frontrunner to claim that starting job. But rebuilding that offensive line from scratch is going to be the number one offseason task on that side of the ball.
The defensive side wasn’t quite as senior-reliant, but it was close. Daniel, Slaughter and Taevion Houston are the only non-senior starters on that side, and those players are either defensive backs or linebackers. So the defensive line of scrimmage will also be a from-the-ground-up rebuild.
There’s young talent in the pipeline as there always is at Handley, but Handley’s current four-year run as a top 10 team in the state could be coming to an end.
Over the past four seasons (2020-23) Handley has gone 42-8, including 10-3 in the playoffs. They’ve won three region titles and the 2020 state championship and have been ranked in the ASWA top 10 for 42 straight weeks dating back to 2020.
Handley won’t be down for long. It never is. But expecting it to remain in that upper echelon of class 4A while replacing 18 of 22 starters (not to mention their kicker, Landon Bozeman) may not be realistic.
RCHS has some critical pieces graduating, but those losses will be much less severe than what Handley will experience. Quarterback/safety Avion Willis is not a player that you can expcet to fully replace. What he did as a four-year starter on offense and an absolute ball hawk on defense is just not something you find in one player. The Tigers will also greatly miss seniors Trent Wilson, Joshua MacNear, Demarcous Chappell and Hayden Glasgow, who were a huge (literally and figuratively) part of the dominant RCHS offensive front that paved the way for over 3,700 rushing yards in 12 games (over 300 per game).
But Rhett Huddleston should be ready to step in at quarterback. He has a strong arm and is well versed in the Pat Prestridge offense. And of course the Tigers have two more years of Mo Winston, who was an absolute revelation in his first year as a starter as a 10th grader. He and Amari Molden will make the graduation of Austin Terrell much easier to bear in the offensive backfield. And linemen like Tae Gipson, Tristen Chappell and Tobey MacNear, among others, should be ready as returning starters or starters in waiting.
There is one variable that has not yet been entered into the prognostication equation, and that is where these two teams will be placed in the realignment that is scheduled to be released in December. The region in which a team is placed and whether that region is in the North or the South will play a huge role in determining the outlook for the 2024 season. But from where we sit right now at the end of 2023 RCHS’s 2024 is looking more promising than Handley’s.
Wadley has been absolutely dominant through the first two rounds of the state playoffs outscoring its opponents 143-37 over the last two weeks. Those games were at home against teams clearly not up to Wadley’s talent level. But both of those factors could be changing with this week’s rematch with Pickens County.
The game will be on the road, and Pickens County – even in a down year for them – is always a dangerous team.
These two teams have met in the playoffs each of the last two years, and both times the winner has gone on to play for the state championship. Add in the fact that this will be Wadley’s first road playoff test this year and there’s plenty of reason to expect that this week’s game will not be the type of laugher that the first two weeks produced.
There’s also this – after what Wadley has done the first two weeks of the playoffs do they fall into a false sense of invincibility? The Bulldogs have been so demonstrably superior to Cedar Bluff and South Lamar that it’s safe to at least wonder how they’ll respond if and when they are not able to do everything they want whenever they want to do it like they have in the first two rounds.
There’s a case to be made that Wadley is just that much better than everyone else, and they’ll be able to keep pummeling foes all the way to the state title game. But if that’s not the case, how they respond when finally faced with a challenge will be critical to their success.