Handley never found a rhythm on offense and found itself on the wrong end of two long fourth-down touchdown passes as they fell to Tallassee 21-7 in Friday’s season opener at Wright Field in Roanoke.
It’s the fourth time in as many years that Tallassee and head coach Mike Battles, Jr., have come away victorious against Larry Strain’s Handley team.
“First of all Tallassee is a hard team to prepare for, especially if you’re young to some degree,” said Handley head coach Larry Strain. “They’re a good, sound football team. They may not be flashy. Coach Battles has been in this forever like I have. His offensive philosophy and mine are totally different, but his won out tonight. His won out every time. Maybe I need to change and go to his philosophy.”
Tallassee set the tone with its first offensive possession as the visiting Tigers put together a methodical drive that consumed almost eight minutes of the first quarter. The drive was extended by one third-down conversion and three fourth-down conversions, the last of which was the most painful for Handley.
Facing a 4th-and-goal from the 17-yard line Tallasee quarterback Tyler Ellis delivered a pass into the end zone that Handley defensive back Quadae Lewis batted off course for what momentarily looked like a drive-ending play.
But the ball helicoptered through the air and into the arms of receiver Matt Justiss, who held on for the improbable touchdown.
It was near clutch play on what Handley head coach Larry Strain said was a tentative defensive sequence for his squad.
“It looked like we were hesitant on the first drive. It looked like we were unsure of ourselves,” Strain said. “And you sure can’t play with uncertainty. You have to be focused and know what’s going on.”
Tallassee extended the lead to 14-0 early in the second quarter on a 35-yard run by running back Jayln Daniels before Handley finally broke through with a touchdown of its own.
The homestanding Tigers got a 13-yard touchdown pass from Evan Cofield to Dylan Brooks with 2:20 left before halftime to cut the lead to 14-7, which is where the game stood at the half.
Handley’s second half was marred by a series of missed opportunities. Running back Devontae Houston had a potential game-tying touchdown run called back because of an illegal motion penalty in the third quarter.
Then, with Handley trailing 21-7, they drove down to the Tallassee 8-yard line where they had a first-and-goal. From there Handley took a sack and committed four penalties that backed them all the way up to the 36-yard line.
Strain said the play-calling in that sequence was dictated by the game situation in which Handley had already spent all of its timeouts.
“If I run it and I get stopped I probably don’t have a chance to win the football game, so I have to make the decision to throw it every time to give us a chance to have enough time get back down the field with no timeouts,” Strain said.
The inability to run took away Handley’s most consistent offensive threat as Houston finished with 104 rushing yards on 19 carries. Three other Handley backs combined for 8 carries and minus-15 yards.
Tallassee had stretched the lead to two touchdowns on another long fourth-down play, this one a 26-yard pass on fourth-and-20 that essentially put the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter.
Handley will look to regroup as it prepares to travel to Holtville for its region opener Friday.