Falling at home to Beauregard, 47-29, to start the season, the Tigers fell again at Wright Stadium to the second-ranked Hornets, this time 36-21.
“They were really good the first time we played them and they’ve gotten better,” Handley coach Mike Battles said. “We just tried to make a game of it and we’ve got some guys that really played hard and played better than what they’ve been playing. We knew what to expect. I think we just gave up some big plays. If you give up big plays, you’re going to beat by a good football team.”
Coming out of the half down 14-7, the Tigers were in need of a spark and found it in turnovers on Beauregard’s first two drives.
Before Handley could take the lead, however, it needed one more fumble recovery, this one in Beauregard territory.
On third and 20 at the Handley 23-yard line, Tigers quarterback Trae Kyles quick-kicked the ball down deep into Hornets territory. As the ball laid motionless seconds from being downed, one Beauregard player “tried to make a play,” according to coach Smitty Grider. “I don’t really know what was going through our players’ heads. It was going to be our ball. Mike (McDonald) was going to go down there to block the guy that was going to go down it, and Charles (Motley) picked it up and tried to make a play. He was just trying to make a play and those things happen when you take chances.”
Two plays later, Kyles hit Tevin Cook for a 20-yard score. With the ball on the 1 1/2-yard line following a penalty, Battles decided to go for the two-point conversation.
“If it would have been three, we would have kicked it,” Battles said. “I told the boys at halftime, ‘We aren’t playing for a tie.’”
Kyles ran the ball in untouched to the left side of the field to give Handley the 15-14 lead.
However, with 4:55 seconds left in the third quarter, Beauregard immediately took over control of the game.
It took a mere eight plays for the Hornets to travel 75 yards and retake the lead, 22-15, with a 20-yard pass from quarterback David Winslett to wideout Davonte Echols to seal the drive.
“We were on our heels,” Grider said. “That was huge. Us responding on the very next drive was big. It allowed us to get our momentum back and get things going back in our direction.”
After a 35-yard touchdown run by Nykel Mitchell gave Beauregard a 29-15 lead, Kyles hit Cook again for what might have been the play of the night for the Tigers.
Heaving the ball up with a prayer attached as he was hit hard, Kyles placed the ball where only Cook could make the catch, jumping over two defenders. Once Cook landed, he weaved in and out of Hornet defenders to complete the 84-yard touchdown reception.
“I think Trae Kyles and Tevin Cook had some great connections on the passes,” Battles said. “I mean, great receptions and thrown under pressure. He had a great ballgame, great senior ballgame.”
But with the Hornets responded in three plays with Winslett running in up the middle for a 41-yard score, and Handley’s hope of advancing to the third round was all but officially over.
Despite the defending Class 3A state champions not being able to repeat in Class 4A, Kyles ended his career with a bang.
While he had a lackluster 33 net rushing yards on 19 carries because of numerous sacks, Kyles racked up 224 yards and a touchdown on 6-for-10 passing. Five of those receptions and 188 yards were to Cook. Kyles also added an interception and fumble recovery to his night.
“Trae Kyles, he’s got a lot of courage,” Grider said. “He got hit a lot tonight and he touched the ball and played every snap on defense, every snap on offense, and he kept getting up off the deck and trying to make plays. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.