The home-standing Handley Tigers took the field dressed like the Crimson Tide, but they played like the Shula years en route to a 21-7 loss to the Tallassee Tigers Friday night.
“This is what Tallassee football looks like,” Tallassee coach Mike Battles said. “Win or lose, this is what Tallassee High School football looks like. We had three starters out and we had to move some kids around and they had to learn. But this is what we want Tallassee football to be about. And the young kids got to see that tonight.”
From the opening kickoff, Tallassee set the tempo, grinding out a nearly eight-minute drive that ended with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Ellis to Matt Justiss.
The score was the first of two fourth and longs the Tigers converted into points.
“It was a great ballgame on both sides of the ball,” Handley coach Larry Strain said. “We couldn’t get our run game going and I think that was to our detriment. And they convert two fourth downs into touchdowns. But they are a well-coached team and this was a really fun game.”
After shutting down Handley on their first possession of the night, Tallassee again turned to the passing game. This time, Ellis completed a 17-yard flare out to Jalen Daniels for the first down.
The very next play, Daniels took the handoff on a sweep and raced into the end zone virtually untouched for the score. With 9:42 to go before the break, the Tigers led 12-0.
Tavarious Griffin added two points to the tally, keeping the ball on a read-option and diving into the end zone to move the mark to 14-0.
Late in half, Handley channeled some crimson-clad magic thanks to a trio of runs from Devontae Houston that moved it down to Tallassee 12.
Evan Scofield, who was 2 of 8 up to that point, completed a 12-yard cross to Dylan Brooks for the score.
Brooks, who is currently listed as the No. 2 prospect at defensive end in the state for the Class of 2021, proved to be a nonfactor in the Handley loss.
The second half for both squads turned into a theatre of the absurd.
Both coaches called for official replays, and both coaches lost.
And just like in the first half, Tallassee set the tempo. On first down, Scofield was brought to the turf by Jacob Webster. He was felled later in the half two more times by Will Blocker.
“Our defense played lights out,” Battles said. “We just can’t leave them out on the field too long like we’ve done in the past two games.”
In a spark of offensive brilliance, Houston broke free on a 46-yard touchdown run only to have it negated by a holding call. The hometown Tigers drive ended when Scofield’s pass to Brooks in the end zone was intercepted by Daniels.
The ensuing Tallassee drive appeared to be stalled as the Tigers were forced to punt. The ball took a fortuitous bounce toward the Tallapoosa River and hit the elbow of a Handley player and was pounced on by Tallassee.
That brought forth the first review of the night. The call on the field stood, much to the chagrin of the crimson faithful. Back on defense, Handley bowed its neck and forced Tallassee to punt again.
Handley fumbled the return again, allowing Tallassee to take control.
“That was tough to watch,” Strain said. “But it comes down to this: We didn’t make the critical plays at the critical times in the game.”
On fourth and goal from its own 15 after a holding call, Tallassee went into the bag of tricks. Lined up in a field goal attempt, Ellis flipped the snap to kicker Dalton Lanier who tossed it to the end zone and into Griffin’s hands. After a scrum of Tigers fell to the ground and the ball rolled free, the pass was ruled incomplete.
Out came the second challenge flag as Battles tossed it to the turf while the incomplete whistle was still blowing.
But, like the earlier Handley challenge, the play stood as called and Tallassee was relieved of its final timeout of the night.
In the fourth quarter, Tallassee iced the game, converting a fourth and 21 into a touchdown.
“That Tallassee player just outmuscled my guys,” Strain said. “That’s what I’m talking about. They did the little things and we didn’t.”
With the point after, Tallassee led 21-7 with 8:02 left in the game.
“He went up and made that play tonight after playing about 115 snaps,” said Battles of Griffin’s touchdown reception. “That’s just a kid that wants to win the ballgame, and we’ve got a lot of kids like that.”
Handley had one last gasp. Houston returned to the Tallassee punt across midfield to the 43. Handley matriculated the ball down to the Tallassee 8.
An incomplete pass on first down.
Blocker sacked Scofield for an eight-yard loss on second down.
Delay of game. Off-side.
Delay of game. Off-side.
“I’ve been coaching 22 years and I’ve never seen anything like that,” Battles said.
After an incomplete on third down, the Tigers lined up for fourth and goal from their own 36-yard line. Scofield’s pass was incomplete and nearly intercepted.
With the lead and the ball, Tallassee was content to run the clock out and pick up the win.