Handley moved within one win of earning a playoff berth and positioned itself for a crucial region showdown with a thorough drumming of Elmore County 42-14 Friday in Eclectic.
Devontae Houston rushed for 197 yards and four touchdowns on just 10 carries, and Handley scored all 42 of its points before halftime before cruising to the win.
“It’s good to get a fast start,” said Handley head coach Larry Strain. “I like doing what you’re supposed to do early.”
Nate Pike had an interception return for a touchdown and Tae Snead tacked on a 7-yard touchdown run before the half to add to Handley’s lead.
Houston opened the game with rushing touchdowns of 35, 22 and 53 yards in the first quarter as Handley built a 21-0 cushion.
“It’s not just Devontae,” Strain said. “Our offensive line, to be honest with you we were rolling folks. I think we had three knock-downs on the first play. When you’re knocking people down and you’re driving people into the ground and you’ve got Devontae Houston back there you’re going to probably be successful.”
After Pike’s pick-six, Houston added a 28-yard score with 8:32 left in the second quarter.
Houston’s big night pushed him over 1,200 yards rushing for the season and gave him 15 rushing touchdowns on the year.
Freshman Jamerqui Lewis added 70 yards on 11 carries in a backup role as Handley compiled 317 rushing yards as a team.
Handley should face a much tougher test this week as the Tigers host fellow region unbeaten Lincoln.
“Lincoln is extremely athletic at every position. They’re more athletic than we are,” Strain said. “Their linebackers can run, and their defensive fronts can run. The key is how well can we stop their quarterback, and can we move the ball on offense. We’ve got to be able to keep the ball away from them some. It can’t be a three-and-out and turn the ball back over to them offensively.”
Lincoln is the defending region champion and won last year’s meeting 30-14. Field position played a major role in that game, as did Handley’s injury-depleted lineup.
“The biggest factor in the Lincoln game last year was their dadgum kicker,” Strain said. “Every time we got the ball we started inside the 20, and a lot of times inside the 10. They do an excellent job of downing the ball inside the 10.”
Houston was injured and did not play against Lincoln last year. Tae Meadows played sparingly and was clearly not 100 percent, Dequavious Lawrence got hurt early in the game, and current starting defensive end and wide receiver Dylan Brooks was forced into a heavy role as a running back.
“If you go back and look at our film last year we really had our bunch out there with baling wire and duck tape,” Strain said.
This year Handley still doesn’t have Meadows, who is out for the season with a knee injury. But otherwise the Tigers are at full strength for what will likely be the most pivotal game of the regular season.
A win for Handley Friday will assure the Tigers of a playoff spot and put them in the driver’s seat for the region championship. A loss almost certainly takes them out of the running for the region title and makes a second straight second place finish the loftiest remaining goal.
Handley made the playoffs last year as the region runner up and last won a region title in 2016, the year they went on to win the 4A state championship.