Kettle Run becomes only county football team to beat John Handley
David Eldridge returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown Friday in Kettle Run's 17-3 win over John Handley. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
John Handley quarterback Will Dearing began Friday as one of the most prolific passers in Northern Virginia.
Kettle Run’s defense made him look like a Dearing in headlights.
For the first time this season, he threw two interceptions in a game and averaged an uncharacteristically-low 5.5 yards per attempt. Consequently, the Cougars held Handley to only a field goal and won 17-3, after the Judges entered the weekend averaging 43.8 points per game and having never scored fewer than 28 points in a game.
That’s a statistic the Cougars can strut out with for anyone who questioned their aptitude after beginning the season 1-2.
Now Kettle Run is 3-2, cementing itself among the best teams in the Class 3A East region.
“The last two years there’s always been swagger,” linebacker Christian Yancey said of his Cougars. “We had to get it back.”
The Cougars posted an 11-3 record last season and advanced to the Group AA state semifinals. They went 13-1 in 2011 and also made a semifinals appearance. So losing two of their first three games in 2013 didn’t live up to that standard, regardless of their inexperience – a product of few returning starters.
On Friday, the Cougars resembled Kettle Run teams of the past by beating a 4A Handley team that has a 4-2 record despite losing.
“For this group, for this year, it’s a huge win,” Cougars coach Jeff Lloyd said. “As young and as inexperienced as we truly are, it’s a huge win.”
For comparison, earlier this season, Liberty lost to Handley, 45-42, and Fauquier fell to the Judges, 45-21.
“We’re the only county team to beat them,” linebacker Bobby Hix said.
“That’s huge,” defensive back Evan Szklennik said. “We had Fauquier guys up in the stands watching us” during their bye week.
The Cougars’ defense fueled the win over Handley. That’s the same unit that led Kettle Run to consecutive appearances in the state semifinals the past two seasons.
“We played like Kettle Run football,” Szklennik said.
Kettle Run held the Judges to 20 rushing yards on 24 carries and finished with three sacks – one by Corbin Gohlmann and two by Abu Kai Kai. Gohlmann also had two of Kettle Run’s four tackles-for-loss.
“They’ve got an excellent defense,” Handley coach Tony Rayburn said. “Usually one of the best defenses you’re going to see year-in and year-out. … Three points is not what we need.”
Kettle Run used its typically disruptive blitzes to rattle Dearing. He threw for 181 yards, but on 33 attempts and with only 12 completions.
“That’s what Kettle Run does – we bring pressure,” Yancey said. “Coach, his blitzing schemes are great.”
Dearing still got off plenty of passes, though, putting the onus on Kettle Run’s defensive backs to keep the ball from Handley’s receivers.
“I thought they played outstanding,” Lloyd said of his secondary. Dearing is “a phenomenal high school quarterback. He throws the ball as well as any kid you’ll see.”
Yancey and Szklennik had the Cougars’ interceptions. Szklennik’s interception led to Kettle Run’s 17-0 lead late in the first quarter.
During a play on which the Cougars rushed only three linemen, Szklennik made a sliding interception against a receiver running a slant route.
Kettle Run managed to gain only 20 yards on its ensuing drive, but that was enough to set up Szklennik for a 36-yard field goal that gave the Cougars a 17-0 lead with 2 minutes, 17 seconds remaining in the first.
Kettle Run began the game by running back the opening kickoff for a touchdown. David Eldridge returned the ball 93 yards after faking a handoff to Austin Lewis and then patiently waiting for his blockers before juking Handley’s kicker.
“That kind of gave our kids the confidence,” Lloyd said. “They believed.”
Eldridge already has seven touchdowns this season (four as a receiver, two as a returner and one as a defensive back) despite only 27 touches.
“Any time he touches the ball, it’s a big play,” Hix said. “All he does” is score touchdowns.
After Handley missed a 40-yard field goal on its next possession, Lewis gave Kettle Run a 14-0 lead on a 56-yard touchdown run with 6:28 remaining in the first.
Lewis finished with 55 yards on six carries, while De Jackson led Kettle Run with 100 yards on 20 carries. Eldridge caught the only completion by quarterback Denzel Champion (1-for-6; two interceptions) for eight yards.
“If you would have told me before the game tonight that we were going to only throw for eight yards and win, I wouldn’t have believed that,” Lloyd said. “Offensive line, I thought, did an excellent job [of run blocking]. We’re developing a little physicality and they didn’t have that earlier.”
The Judges scored their only points on a 38-yard field goal by Nick Marshall with 11:48 remaining in the second quarter. However, their 14-point halftime deficit didn’t seem insurmountable.
Handley previously showed an ability to rally during their victory over Liberty. It trailed 35-14 at halftime and 42-21 in the fourth quarter, but then scored 24 unanswered points.
“‘We can’t let what happened to Liberty,’ we kept telling each other,” Szklennik said.
Handley’s offense played without star 6-foot-4 receiver Justin Washington, who sat out with an injury suffered last weekend.
“A very key player for them,” Eldridge said. “You could tell they were hurting a little.”
“But they’re still very talented,” Lloyd said.
Dontae Mauck frequently faced double-coverage from the Cougars, but still led Handley with 60 receiving yards on two receptions. D.J. Frisby had a team-high 51 rushing yards on 16 carries, while Brian Thomas caught one 56-yard pass.
- - - - -
Kettle Run 17, John Handley 3
KR 17 0 0 0 – 17
JH 0 3 0 3 – 3
KR: David Eldridge 93 kickoff return (Evan Szklennik kick), 11:43.
KR: Austin Lewis 56 run (Szklennik kick), 6:28.
KR: Szklennik 36 field goal, 2:17.
JH: Nick Marshall 38 field goal, 11:48.
KR: De Jackson 20-100, Lewis 6-55, Denzel Champion 12-31, Bobby Hix 1-3.
JH: D.J. Frisby 16-51, Dontae Mauck 2-(-4), Will Dearing 6-(-27).
KR: Champion 1-6-2 8
JH: Dearing 12-33-2 181.
KR: Eldridge 1-8.
JH: Mauck 2-60, Brian Thomas 1-56, Jarett Cestaro 4-26, Frisby 2-20, Jason Morgan 3-19.
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