A strange brew of defense and penalties and missed opportunities led Handley and Lanett to duel to a 0-0 tie after four quarters of football.
Perhaps Handley’s most important victory came immediately after that, prior to the start of overtime.
“We won the coin toss, and we played defense,” said Handley head coach Larry Strain.
Handley won the toss and opted to get the ball second in overtime, so they would know exactly what they needed in order to win the game.
Handley’s defense held firm and forced a 24-yard field goal from Lanett, setting up a game-winning 6-yard touchdown run from Tae Meadows that gave Handley a 6-3 victory.
“He was able to get the crease and get in there. It was a big play,” Strain said.
It wasn’t the only big play of the game for Handley, but it was one of the few that was not negated by penalty. The Tigers were flagged 15 times for 140 yards, one of which wiped out a Meadows touchdown in the third quarter.
But the way Handley’s defense was playing, it was only a matter of time (or overtime) before the Tigers found their way to the win.
Handley limited Lanett to 137 yards of total offense, including just 42 rushing yards on 29 carries. Handley recorded 10 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, led by Jake Cottle’s 4.5 tackles for loss, and recorded two interceptions.
It was a needed effort as Handley’s offense never found its rhythm. The Tigers threw three interceptions, and Meadows was limited to 101 yards on 27 carries, an average of just 3.7 yards per carry after he came into the game averaging over 10 yards per run.
Strain credited Lanett’s defensive game plan to his team’s running struggles.
“They did a good job. They tried to shut our run down,” Strain said. “They committed to playing man-to-man in the secondary and committed the rest of the seven to stopping the run. That puts one more than we can really block up there. If we missed a block we had a hard time running it.”
The win was Handley’s first against Lanett since 2016 and ended a three-game streak for the Panthers in this series. The win, and the manner in which they achieved it, could pay dividends in the mental toughness department down the road for Handley.
“You don’t want adversity, but you’ve got to play good teams in order get you prepared for down the road,” Strain said. “These kids had never beaten Lanett. So I think that was big.”
Handley sophomore Jamerqui Lewis may be working himself into more of a prominent role on offense. Lewis, who played limited snaps a year ago, touched the ball nine times on offense (6 rushes, 3 receptions) and totaled 74 yards against that stingy Lanett defense.
The win keeps Handley unbeaten on the season, and they are assured of remaining so for at least one more week. This week’s game against Jacksonville was canceled due to COVID concerns among the Jacksonville team. That means that Handley will take the forfeit victory and head into next week’s game against Cherokee County at 4-0 and in first place in the region.