HV, Unicoi in Thursday spotlight

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff
It's literally the only game in town Thursday night. In its home opener, Happy Valley shares the spotlight with archrival Unicoi County.
For the homestanding Warriors, it is a rare opportunity to score a three-peat in their series against the visiting boys in blue.
"We went through a little drought a few years, losing close games," recalled HV head coach Stan Ogg when asked about the possibility of winning a third straight over the Blue Devils. "Two or three times, they beat us in close ones. I don't know if the kids think about how many times we've beaten them. Everyone goes through cycles, but it would be an accomplishment to win three in a row."
Happy Valley does enjoy the advantage of already playing a game, beating North Greene 29-12 in week zero. UC head coach Larry Howell was in attendance at that game and saw two players in particular that concerned him.
"It looked like they are real physical," said Howell, whose team will also end their regular season in Carter County against Elizabethton. "They have us a little outmanned on the line. I know 51 (Jordy Harrison) and 54 (Daniel Dover) play both sides of the ball real well. Number 54 goes around 240 pounds, but he plays a little bigger. They are strong up the middle.
"For them, having a game under their belts is an advantage. They already have been through all those first game butterflies. We really will have to concentrate the first of the game or the first quarter could be the end of the game."
Although Ogg promises to stay with the new formations implemented last week as a part of the Warrior offense against the Huskies, they will concentrate more on a ground attack this week.
"It's no secret we like to run the football," said Ogg. "The two tailbacks that filled for Tim Whaley last week didn't get enough credit. Michael Hollifield and Ryan Garland had about 150 yards between them. It's going to be good to have Tim back because he is a leader.
"He's been with us for four years and we're glad to have him back in the lineup. Our offense takes care of itself, but my bigger concern is giving up big plays on defense."
If Unicoi County, who finished a disappointing 1-9 in 2002, is to break its current slide, some key players are needed to step up.
"We have to have a good game from (quarterback) Hunter Sparks," said Howell. "He has to protect the ball on offense and not have turnovers. If we can give him time, he can get it up in the air.
"Our line has to play well and we have three running backs that have to gain yards - Corey Schwenke, Thomas Britt and Dusty Stephenson. They beat us between the tackles last year, but we feel we have improved blocking and tackling since then. Emmanuel Mendoza, who plays on our line, has to have a good game as a kicker and punter."
The game could very well come down to the kicking game Howell mentioned. Three years ago, Unicoi won on a last minute field goal. Two years ago, momentum from the kicking game swung back in HV's favor as Lamar Rollins took the opening kickoff for a touchdown, leading to a 19-6 Warrior win.
"Three years ago we got beat with the kicking game, the field goal, punt returns and missed tackles," said Ogg. "Lamar set the tone two years ago with his return. They are a big team, but we have to win the battles inside and win the battle of the kicking game."
If this season's contest does come down to a field goal, both teams appear to have the right men for the job. HV's Casey Shatley scored the first points of the season last week against North Greene with a 24-yarder through the uprights, while Unicoi counters with Mendoza, whom Howell claims is pretty accurate inside the 25.
Whatever the outcome, both coaches know this is one of the area's best rivalries.
"The preparation is the same, but the kids enjoy playing so much you don't have to do a lot to get 'em up," said Ogg. "It's a rivalry pretty deep, five sports a year for 20 years worth. They seem to be the biggest rival in every sport. There's mutual respect, but when they are playing it looks like the kids don't like each other.
"Last year's basketball game over at their place was like the Super Bowl. Their fans and our fans really got excited.
Added Howell: "Even though it is a rivalry game, it's always been a real, good clean game. At the end, the kids mix it all up together, join together and have a prayer together. It brings out the best in both teams. This is what high school football is all about."
For those wishing to attend one of the classic rivalries in prep sports, Thursday's kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. atop Warrior Hill.