The game didn’t count on the record. But the experience that the players gained was as real as any regular season game could create. For the Handley Tigers if Friday night’s 40-15 win over LaFayette was any indication, they could be in for a fun season.
Quarterback Evan Cofield threw for 209 yards and four touchdowns, to four different Handley receivers as the Tigers overcame a sluggish start to come away with the victory.
“A lot of things that were holding us back in the first half was just lack of execution, making the wrong read, the back went the wrong way or a lineman went the wrong way,” said Handley head coach Larry Strain. “And that comes with playing in the first game and making mistakes that we made. But when you’ve got some explosive players, you’re probably going to have some explosive plays.”
That’s exactly what happened, and those explosive plays came in the passing game in large part because of how LaFayette was attempting to defend the Handley attack.
“LaFayette was bound and determined that we were not going to run the football. So they had eight people in the box. When you’ve got eight people in the box we can’t block all eight of them, so now we have to throw the ball,” Strain said.
Cofield overcame two first-half interceptions to complete a total of four touchdown passes in the second and third quarters as Handley built a 34-6 lead. The shortest of those scores was the 26-yarder to Dylan Brooks just before the end of the first half.
The other scoring plays went to Devontae Houston (43 yards), Tae Snead (63 yards) and C.J. Allen (38 yards). Allen also had an interception return for a touchdown in the first half to show off the defense’s big-play ability as well.
In all Cofield completed 10-of-18 passes for 209 yards.
Houston was able to balance that out on the ground, despite the loaded LaFayette box. The Handley senior running back had 21 carries for 113 yards.
Handley’s final touchdown came on a 12-yard run by freshman Jamerqui Lewis with 6:10 left in the game.
Handley now turns its attention to its regular season opener against a Tallassee team that Strain has yet to defeat in three attempts during his time at Handley.
Tallassee was the last team to beat the 2016 Handley state championship team, and Mike Battles, Jr.’s team has won a couple of closely contested matchups the last two seasons as well.
“They’re a well-coached team, and they’re a team that has a different philosophy when you come in to play them,” Strain said. “In a lot of instances they’re probably better prepared for the first game than what we’ve been, one because of our youth the last two years. And in ’16 they caught us after the Callaway scenario, and we had our heads stuck up our butt.”
Strain admitted that the game won’t make or break his team’s season, but it could be a meaningful win in terms of morale for a talented young team looking to assert itself.
“I think it just sets you up for the season,” Strain said. “It gets your confidence level a lot higher than having to come off a loss. Either way, win or lose, that hasn’t completed your season and it hasn’t lost your season. But we sure do want a win.”