Nelson Stickley was tired and sore after Park View's 42-17 victory at Handley Saturday--but he also was very happy to feel that way. The senior running back carried the ball 26 times for 175 yards--both of which were season highs--and scored two touchdowns against the Judges.
Stickley, who rushed for 1,836 yards in 1998, had a rough start this season. He was bothered by a bruised back during the preseason, and then he sprained his left ankle during the second game of the season. Stickley did not play in the Patriots' 25-3 win over Osbourn Sept. 18, and he played sparingly last week against Liberty (13 carries for 56 yards).
But Saturday, Stickley proclaimed his ankle "99 percent healthy" and proved it during the game, breaking free for a 49-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.
"I just wanted to get out there and start proving myself again," Stickley said. "Once everything started happening, my confidence went down. The last three weeks have been frustrating because I wasn't healthy. But I felt good today."
A healthy and productive Stickley helped boost the Patriots in one of their biggest games of the season--both Park View and Handley were undefeated entering Saturday's game.
"We're just trying to establish ourselves in [the Northwestern] District," Park View Coach Mickey Thompson said Saturday. The Patriots won the Group AAA Liberty District title last season, before moving down to Group AA this season. "That starts with beating Handley. [Handley] is a class program, and they were a team we needed to beat. Our kids knew it."
Park View faced a tough challenge in Handley, which advanced to the Group AA Division 3 semifinals in 1998. The Judges opened the game with an 80-yard drive that was capped by a 53-yard touchdown pass from senior Lang Campbell to senior Eric Braithwaite. With 8 minutes 54 seconds left in the first quarter, Park View was down, 7-0--the first time the Patriots trailed this season.
"After that first drive, I was like, man, this is going to be a tough game," said Park View junior quarterback and defensive back Nick Smith. "Nobody had been in the end zone all year on us. It was a real check for our defense."
The Park View offense responded by scoring on its next four possessions to build a 28-14 halftime lead. In the second half, the Patriots punted for the first time this season, after Handley cut the score to 28-17. But Park View pulled away in the fourth quarter, thanks to two interceptions (by senior Mike McDermott and Smith) and two touchdowns runs (of 49 and 11 yards) by Stickley.
"We needed that," Thompson said. "We hadn't broken any long runs all year. Hopefully [Saturday's performance] will lead to more."