New coach adds flavor to old rivalry


STAR STAFF


  On a night when Bristol hosts the most popular Busch Series race in America, Unicoi County head coach Drew Pettit starts the season NASCAR-style Friday night against Happy Valley.
  Just as NASCAR fires up with its biggest race, the Daytona 500, the Blue Devils meet their biggest rival with extra incentive for Pettit, HV's offensive coordinator the past seven seasons.
   "When I took this job, it was 137 days until this game," said Pettit. "When you take a job like this, people ask you who you have first. When you say Happy Valley, their eyes get as big as quarters."
  While it will be Pettit's first Warrior-Blue Devil game as a head coach, his former boss Stan Ogg fondly recalled his first game versus Unicoi County calling the shots.
  "I was here as an assistant a long time ago and found out what a big rivalry it was then," said Ogg. "Then the first game in 1997 (as head coach) we played here, we had a really good football team.
  "Erwin played us pretty good. We had to play dog gone good to beat them 21-7."
  HV has dominated the rivalry the last three seasons, including a convincing 33-15 triumph in 2003. Last week, Pettit scouted his former team, watching them hang 53 points on the scoreboard and rack up 475 offensive yards against North Greene.
  "It has grown into a monster," said Pettit about HV's offense. "After getting the chance to see them against North Greene, they have four or five kids who can go all the way each time they touch the ball.
  "If (Todd) Caldwell gets protection it's going to be, 'Katie, bar the door' if we don't get something done."
  Ogg says he doesn't worry about his former assistant's familarity with the Warrior playbook.
  "It's not really about the coaches is our take on it," said Ogg. "The players have to play. There is some familarity of the coaches knowing the offenses and defenses. From the check-off systems to the terminology, there are some similarities there."
  Scary for opponents is while Ryan Garland, Michael Hollifield, Caldwell, Chris Rutledge, Drew Davis and promising freshman Jesse Richardson all scored touchdowns opening week for HV, it also has speedsters Bryan Black and Greg Swafford capable of breaking big plays.
  "They aren't reinventing the wheel, but they are doing what they do very well," said Pettit. "These are the same routes people have been running for years. They have the athletes put them in the spots and are doing a great job getting the ball to them.
  "Defensively we want to chase the ball and make a big play at some point. That's easier said than done when you see the athletes Happy Valley has on the field right now."
  Looked upon to slow down the HV horsepower are cornerbacks Sal Degaldo and Aaron Saylor. Free safety Ruben Hyder and linebacker Thomas Evely are other top defensive players for the Devils.
  When Warriors play defense, they will face Unicoi's triple-option triggered by the quarterback, the same offense they ran two seasons ago.
  Making holes through the opposing defenses for the Devils are fullbacks Cody Hyatt, a transfer from Texas, Daniel Bishop and Cody Armstrong.
  Likely they will clash with HV linebacker Will Lowe and the interior line of Cody Cannon and Jordy Harrison. One key defender listed as questionable is Daniel Guinn, who suffered a back injury in the win over the Huskies.
  "They have some good players in their option," said Ogg. "You have to take care of the bases of it. They have a couple of fullbacks and a couple of quarterbacks who are good.
  "I know the fullback hits the midline pretty quick and you have to take care of that first."
  A player who stood out last week for the Warrior defense was Vince Hodge with his relentless pursuit of the football.
  "Vince had a pretty nice game," said Ogg. "We lost some containment, but not on his side. Beside just stopping them from getting outside, you have to have leverage against the cutback lanes.
  "That's what Unicoi does too. They love to cut that back on the down sweep or the quarterback option. Our defensive ends have to squeeze that back to the inside and take away that cutback zones."
  Against the triple-option, preventing plays from developing takes precedence over reckless abandon.
  "You have to play option responsibilty," said Ogg. "If you are responsible for the (fullback) dive, you have to play the dive. If you are responsible for the quarterback, you have to play the quarterback.
  "You can't start sinking down. It's the same as playing gap control when you play defense. You have to be discliplined and stay with your gameplan."
  Although the Warriors field one of their more talented squads, the Devils feel their success rests on their own shoulder pads.
  "We are getting better every day," said Pettit. "That's what we try to do through our work habits. If we do things right, we feel we can play with people. We can be as good as we want to be or as bad as we want to be.
  "We want to have an up-tempo game and keep it there for 48 minutes."
  Emmanuel Mendoza keys the UC offensive line at the center position and also is a kicker capable of booting 50-plus yard field goals.
  HV's coach says one thing is for sure, the game will not lack spirit.
  "There's such a rivalry between these two schools, that's been that way for quite a while and will continue to be for quite a while," said Ogg. "We expect them to be very high and very emotional.
  "We have to counter that by keeping our heads about us, but still play at a high intensity. Erwin is a tough place to play."
  Despite the magnitude of the game, Pettit, who thanked Ogg and HV defensive coordinator Greg Hyder for all he learned working with them, has to keep his team focused on a larger goal.
  The Daytona 500 is merely one of 36 points paying races. Win or lose, this is the first of ten games on Unicoi's schedule.
  "We've got to get past how big this game is," said Pettit. "We have nine other games to play besides this one, including seven conference games that stack up more important.
  "But from a confidence standpoint and a rivalry, this is one we really want. Hopefully, we can get it done."