CENTRE — Handley-Cherokee County was a much-anticipated matchup during the 2009 football season, and it finally happened Friday.
It just happened minus a cast of stars such as Alabama’s Mr. Football — Coty Blanchard — and Auburn signee LaDarius Phillips.
It happened minus the starting backfield and middle of the defense that keyed Handley’s run to the Class 4A semifinals.
It happened minus 10 starters on offense and seven on defense who led Cherokee County to the 4A title.
But the matchup finally happened Friday, in the form of a spring jamboree at Cherokee County. The full, four-quarter game pitted the 2010 versions of each team, and we can draw a few conclusions.
One — Handley looks ready to make a run in 3A, which will be the Tigers’ classification next season.
Cherokee County, which also lost offensive coordinator William Wagnon to a head coaching job at Munford, looks young.
Final score: Handley 54, Cherokee County 20.
One can pretty well gauge where each 2009 powerhouse stands five months into 2010 through the descriptions of their head coaches.
“We have a bunch of them that stepped in, because they got to play a lot last year,” Handley coach Mike Battles said. “We had a lot of ballgames they got to play in, so we pretty much knew what they could do.”
Cherokee County’s Tripp Curry said he sees a lot of potential in his program. It’s just that not many of those guys have driver’s licenses.
“We started out with five ninth-graders,” he said. “We’ve got some dang good ninth-graders, or eighth-graders that are going to be ninth-graders. They’re just not ready to play varsity yet.”
This was nothing like the matchup that could have happened in the 4A title game last season, had Handley not lost to Jackson in the semifinals.
Cherokee County showed brief spurts of what can be, however, and they involved Blanchard’s replacement.
Senior Brett Burgess, a converted defensive back playing quarterback for the first time since his freshman year, scrambled out of pressure for a 24-yard touchdown run.
Handley, meanwhile, looked ready to open the 2010 season. In fact, the Tigers also looked ready to bust open a can on 3A.
They appear to have a more balanced backfield without Phillips, though Bryant Johnson looked impressive in that spot.
Friday’s jamboree might have been just the reality check the young Warriors needed after an undefeated season and mass signing-day ceremony in the field house.
“It helps you go back to work,” Curry said. “It helps me and it helps the kids.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.