It started out as an unlikely possibility and turned into the inevitable.
Kettle Run won its first Northwestern District football title in nine years with yet another sterling performance, dominating Handley 39-21 last Saturday in Winchester.
Coming off a 1-9 season, the Cougars are making their third playoff appearance in coach Charlie Porterfield’s six years, completing an eye-opening turnaround.
“If you asked any of us last year, we’d laugh in your face that we’d be in this position,” said Porterfield, who won his first district title and the school’s first since 2011 when Kettle Run, coached by Jeff Lloyd, finished 13-1 and lost in the Class 3 state semifinals to James Monroe 14-7.
The Cougars (5-0), who’ll host Broad Run (4-1) in Friday’s Class 4 Region B semifinals at 7 p.m., played five regular season games in this pandemic-delayed 2020 season, but, oh what marvelous victories they were.
Led by the unofficial Northwestern District Offensive MVP Elijah Chumley and his deadly set of receivers, the Cougars dominated their four district foes. Like their wins against Liberty and Fauquier, the Handley game was close for a while, before the Cougars scored 32 straight points to seize firm control.
Chumley completed 15 of 23 passes for 290 yards and five touchdown passes and ran for one in concluding his amazing regular season. Jordan Tapscott caught six passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns and Ahmal Williams caught three passes for 123 yards and two TDs.
Porterfield said keeping all his talented receivers (which also include Alden Williams and Jacob Robinson) happy isn’t as hard as you’d think.
“They celebrate each other’s successes. They all understand that they’ll get theirs,” said Porterfield.
As for Chumley, the senior lefty continues to earn rave reviews. “Elijah does a great job of throwing to multiple guys. He just has the ability to move the ball all over the field. If one play goes away, he understands someone else will be open,” said Porterfield.
With a younger offensive line, Chumley has taken a few hits this year.
“He has an ability to remain in the pocket and take hits some high school quarterbacks are not willing to take,” said Porterfield. “He understands it’s his responsibility to stand there, knowing if he throws the ball it will be a TD but he’ll get hit. His maturity has been tremendous,” Porterfield said.
“Their quarterback is so good that if you make a mistake he makes you pay,” Handley coach Dan Jones told the Winchester Star.
Kettle Run marched 80 yards on its opening drive with Chumley going 6-for-6, including five passes to Jordan Tapscott, capped by a precise 8-yard pinpoint throw to Tapscott at the left pylon for a TD.
But Handley, getting its second shot at the Cougars after being bombarded by Chumley and his receivers 48-14 in the season-opener in Week 1, recovered to take a 14-7 lead.
The Cougars gifted Handley’s first TD when a snap sailed over punter Andrew Piercy’s head, prompting the senior to fall on the ball at the KRHS 4-yard line. Dayvon Newman scored on a 1-yard run to tie it at 7-7 after Adam Pollak’s kick.
Handley took a 14-7 lead on Newman’s 14-yard run on the Judges’ next possession.
A little early adversity has been Kettle Run’s habit most weeks. They trailed early in comfortable wins against Handley and Liberty, and rolled both times. They were scoreless for a long time against Fauquier before rolling 44-0.
A new TD pass is never far away for Chumley, who connected with Ahmal Williams on a 72-yard bomb up the left side to tie it at 14-14, then hit his fellow speedster brother Alden Wlliams for a 55-yard score on the next drive to make it 21-14. Chumley’s 1-yard TD run with 34 seconds left helped Kettle Run lead 27-14 at the half.
After forcing a Judges’ punt to open the third, Chumley hit Ahmal Williams on a short slant route and WIlliams sped to the sideline, turned the corner and scored on a 40-yard play to make it 33-14
Tapscott intercepted a Handley pass midway through the fourth quarter and ran it 18 yards to the Handley 22. On first down, Chumley rewarded the star sophomore by hitting him across the middle on first down for a 22-yard TD strike to make it 39-14 with 6:11.
Handley made a mild comeback bid by scoring on a 58-yard TD pass from Chris Milotte to Jayden Vardaro to make it 39-21, then recovering an onsides kick.
But Kettle Run stopped that Handley drive in four plays and later intercepted two Milotte passes, one by freshman Sam Rodgers and the second by junior Kamran Dinicolantonio.
Alden Williams also had one of the Cougars’ four interceptions.
Porterfield praised his defense for forcing four turnovers, noting the Judges never really mounted a sustained drive. “You can’t expect to stop a team like Handley when you give them the ball on the 4,” he said of the first TD. “We only gave up one late (TD).”
Still with playoffs looming, the coach wants better.
“We feel we messed some things up in all three phases. We can still play better,” said Porterfield.