Handley built a 30-7 lead during a dominant first half, and then never scored again. The Tigers saw their chances of a region championship slip through their fingers as Lincoln scored 27 straight points to claim an improbable 34-30 win in Roanoke Friday night.
Handley scored touchdowns on each of its first four possessions in the first half behind an offense that could seemingly do no wrong. Devontae Houston rushed for 161 yards on 19 first-half carries and scored all four Handley touchdowns as the Tigers built that 23-point lead.
Handley did the job defensively as well as they forced a potent Lincoln offense into two punts and a turnover in its first three possessions.
But the tide started to shift late in the second quarter as Lincoln needed just 1:50 to go 76 yards and score on a 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Javion Surles to Brian Garrett. That score cut the lead to 30-13, where it stood at halftime.
Whatever gusto Handley had in the first half was long gone by the start of the third quarter. The Tigers could not recapture their first-half magic on offense as they had four straight 3-and-outs and lost a fumble in their first five possessions of the half.
Meanwhile, Surles and the Lincoln offense found their groove, scoring touchdowns on three straight possessions punctuated by Surles's 30-yard run with 10:49 left in the game that completed the Lincoln comeback and put the Golden Bears ahead 34-30.
But Handley did not go down without a fight. The Tigers forced a Surles fumble then rode a Houston-led wildcat offense down the field as the clock ticked under three minutes left to play. Houston carried six straight times to get Handley to the Lincoln 18-yard line. Handley's last gasp came on a fourth-and-3 play from the 16, when Evan Cofield's pass intended for Nate Pike fell incomplete inside the 10-yard line.
Houston accounted for 238 of Handley's 310 yards of offense. He finished with 33 carries for 213 yards and four touchdowns and caught three passes for 25 more yards. He also scored two 2-point conversions to account for 28 of Handley's 30 points.
Barring an improbable Lincoln loss in the next two weeks to either Childersburg or Elmore County, Friday's result knocks Handley out of contention for the region title. But the Tigers can still claim the No. 2 seed out of the region if they win their final two region games against Leeds and Talladega over the next two weeks.
Braxton Daniel kicked a 27-yard field goal with four seconds left in the game to send RCHS to a 17-14 win over previously unbeaten Walter Wellborn. The Tigers are now one win away from a playoff berth and still have a shot to at least finish in a tie for first in the region.
Cleveland 59, Woodland 36
Clay Central 65, St. Clair County 0
Ranburne 68, West End 26
Look for much more in-depth coverage of all these games in next Wednesday's print edition of the Randolph Leader.