The goal all along this week for Handley was to spend two straight Fridays in Tuscaloosa. That dream will become a reality for the Tigers after they traveled to T-Town and defeated American Christian Academy 34-13 in the state semifinals Friday night.
That win puts Handley in the 4A state championship game against Gordo next Friday at Bryant-Denny Stadium at 10 a.m.
It will be the second visit to the state title game in the six-year tenure of Handley head coach Larry Strain. Strain led the Tigers to the 4A title in 2016.
Handley broke open a one-score game with a dominant second half fueled by the relentless running of tailback Tae Meadows. The junior is quickly establishing himself as a rising star in the state of Alabama and will get to show his skills on the state's biggest stage next week.
Meadows rushed for 224 yards and four touchdowns on 27 carries Friday, with three of those touchdowns coming in the decisive second half.
Handley actually fell behind 7-0 in the first quarter against ACA, but outscored the Patriots 34-6 the rest of the way.
The game was still in doubt after ACA scored on a 19-yard touchdown pass from William Sute to Georgia commit Kamari Lassiter with 2:18 left in the third quarter. That cut the Handley lead to 20-13. But Handley answered with an 80-yard drive capped by a 10-yard touchdown run by Meadows with 8:14 remaining to build the lead back up to 14 points.
Handley then came up with a fourth down stop on ACA's next possession after the Patriots were forced to go for it deep in their own territory. Meadows wasted no time striking the final blow after the turnover as he raced 25 yards for the touchdown that provided the final margin of victory.
From then, the celebration was on as Handley will make its first appearance in the state title game since that 2016 championship. It's the fourth state final for Handley in its history. The Tigers lost in 1977 and won in 2011 and 2016.
Meadows scored on touchdown runs of 30, 14, 10 and 25 yards, while quarterback Evan Cofield connected with Dylan Brooks on a critical 10-yard touchdown pass right before halftime that gave Handley a 14-7 lead going into the break.
Cofield was at his best on that drive in a game where Handley otherwise relied heavily on the run attack. Cofield finished 8-of-14 for 62 yards and a touchdown.
Lassiter was a difficult matchup for Handley all night as he caught six passes for 169 yards and a touchdown. But outside of those six completions Handley held the Patriots to just 94 yards of offense. Jake Cottle led the charge defensively with 7.5 total tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Handley will take on a Gordo team that is in its first year in class 4A and will enter the title game with a 13-1 record. Gordo's only loss came in week five in a non-region game against 6A Northridge.
Look for full coverage of Handley's quest for the 4A state championship in next week's print edition of the Randolph Leader.