Warriors hurdle Unicoi County

Photo by Rick Harris
Happy Valley tailback Tim Whaley outruns the Blue Devil defense for a touchdown.

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff
Happy Valley's defense rose to the occasion and Tim Whaley scored four touchdowns in a 33-15 win over Unicoi County atop Warrior Hill Thursday night.
"I worried about this, but these kids believe so much in themselves," said Happy Valley head coach Stan Ogg. "They played very hard and they executed. I knew Unicoi wasn't the same team as a year ago.
"It took some time to take control, but our defensive coaches did an outstanding job preparing for them. We gave them three points at the first of the game. I never felt that comfort zone the whole game."
The Warriors trailed only once in their home opener. After fumbling the opening kickoff return, Emmanuel Mendoza booted a 42 yard field goal to put Unicoi County up 3-zip.
After going three and out the next series, Happy Valley got a major momentum swing as a high hanging punt by Whaley was fumbled and recovered by Daniel Dover.
A 14-yard pass play from Todd Caldwell to Ryan Garland set up the first of Whaley's four scoring runs from four yards out. Casey Shatley's extra point put the Warriors up 7-3.
The next series, the Warrior defense tightened with Unicoi losing four yards on the possession. Getting field position at the Unicoi 26, it took only three plays -- a 20 yard run by Garland and runs of five and one yards by Whaley for the next HV score.
Blue Devil QB Hunter Sparks and the Devils moved the ball near midfield through the air before handing it back over to HV. With possession on the UC 41, the Warriors lost an unthinkable 51 yards on their next offensive series. Two high snaps, one that sailed over the head of Caldwell and a punt snap that Whaley couldn't reach moved the ball all the way to the Warrior 8 with Unicoi in prime scoring position.
Thomas Britt had a six-yard run up the middle for Unicoi putting the ball at the two. That's the moment the HV defense rose to the occasion as three more runs netted only one yard.
"Man, that goal line was an outstanding effort," said Ogg. "Our kids really wanted to play. They played with a lot of desire tonight."
The defensive line was impressive in the first half as Josh Smith recorded a key sack, while Jordy Harrison made other two tackles behind the line of scrimmage. The interior of the line hung tough with Austin Shell, Cane Cannon, Daniel Guinn and Daniel Dover all keeping the running lanes clogged up.
"It was really important when we stopped them at the goal line," said Shell. "We didn't want to give them the momentum because that could have been a big difference. It was the same at the first of the game. Seven points would have been a lot worse than three.
"We have to credit our offseason work, the lifting weights and running. Beating Unicoi County is as good as it can get."
Will Lowe and Brandon Whitehead each had key hits in the second half, but of all the defensive players, the one who shined the brightest on this night was Vince Hodge. From his end position Hodge disrupted several running plays and made a big sack on Sparks when the Warriors needed field position.
"He was stringing the sweep," said Ogg about the play of Hodge. "He stayed within his boundaries and he did a very nice job."
The Warriors opened the third quarter in impressive fashion. Whaley put together back to back runs of 17 and 12 yards to score his third td of the night at 8:43 of the third quarter, giving HV a 20-3 lead.
Unicoi County shaved it to an 11-point game on a 14-play, 65-yard drive, that was capped by an eight-yard run by Britt.
"Our kids gave the effort," said Blue Devil coach Larry Howell. "It was a combination of mental mistakes and first game nervousness. They played hard. I thought our defense played against the run real well in the first half other than just a couple of plays.
"We didn't move the ball on offense like I hoped we would. I think when we couldn't punch the ball in down there at the goal line took a lot of air out of us."
In the fourth quarter, Happy Valley added two more scores. Whaley made a 30-yard sprint up the gut to the goal line after two first down runs by fullback Lance Whitehead. Caldwell scored the last td on a three-yard quarterback keeper.
Unicoi put the game's final points on the board with a one-yard plunge by reserve quarterback Thomas Evely.
Statistically, the Warriors rushed for 168 yards on only 27 carries to 49 rushes for 114 yards for Unicoi County.
"We challenged Tim," said Ogg about Whaley, who led the team with 80 yards on the ground. "He's a gamer and he wants the football. We decided to run him and the other backs right at them in the second half."
The Blue Devils will once again go on the road next Friday night, heading over to Bluff City to face Sullivan East. Happy Valley, now 2-0 on the season, will open their Watauga Conference season next Friday night by traveling to West Greene.