Warriors gut out win over Unicoi

  By Jeff Birchfield
  star staff
  jbirchfield@starhq.com
  ERWIN--Most people knew coming into the season, the 2004 Happy Valley Warriors had talent. Friday night's hard fought 20-9 win at Unicoi County showed the team had guts.
  "We stepped it up in the second half," said defensive end Vince Hodge. "We lived to fight another day. We're 2-0 and just have to try to play our best in every game."
  While many pre-game predictions foretold a HV rout, someone forgot to inform Unicoi County. For four quarters, the boys in blue gave the Warriors all they could handle.
  "All these guys have worked really hard to put themselves in a good situation," said Blue Devil head coach Drew Pettit. "It was 11 people on the field playing as hard as they could. I felt we played as well as we could have. A great rivalry, that was an unbelievable game."
  Although Happy Valley quickly marched downfield on its opening drive via seven-play, 57-yard scoring drive to go up 7-0, Unicoi immediately responded with a 66-yard drive of their own capped off by Dusty Stephenson's eight-yard run.
  Usually reliable Emanuel Mendoza missed the extra point and the Warriors clung to a 7-6 lead.
  In the second quarter, Bryan Black cut loose on a 39-yard touchdown run to give HV a 14-6 advantage. Right before the half, Unicoi County mustered enough yards to get in Mendoza's field goal range. Mendoza made up for the earlier miscue, booting a 33-yard field goal, putting the score 14-9 at the break.
  "We weren't intense enough in the first half," admitted Hodge. "We thought we could come in here, be mad and take it to them. We weren't all that we thought we were. It's pretty scary to almost lose. I thought we didn't have it there for a little while. It feels good to come out with a win"
  It was a costly first half for Happy Valley. Starting tailback Michael Hollifield suffered a shin injury a few plays after scoring the game's first touchdown. All-State defensive back and leading receiver Drew Davis later injured his wrist on a play where he caught a four-yard pass from quarterback Todd Caldwell.
  The squads battled back and forth in a third-quarter defensive struggle. A break seemed to occur when Ryan Garland boomed a 41-yard punt that a Unicoi returner lost in the lights. Quick to jump on the fumble was No. 18 Jon Stamey.
  "We turned it over a couple of times ourselves," said Stamey. "I wanted to catch a break and that helped us out."
  The momentum swing was short-lived, Garland fumbled on the next play and the Devils regained possession.
  However, when the going got tough, the HV defense was at its best. Logan Birchfield, Daniel Shankle, Cane Cannon and Michael Higgins all made key stops just when it appeared Unicoi might have a chance to drive downfield for the lead. A couple of other stops, one a smothering tackle by Jordy Harrison and the other by Will Lowe stuffing a runner at the line were highlight reel material.
  "Defensively I was proud," said Warrior head coach Stan Ogg. "They shoved it down our throats on the 60-yard drive after we scored. After that we gave up some yardage, but our defense played pretty solid."
  One of the biggest defensive contributors was Stamey, who disrupted several plays.
  "I got chewed out at halftime because I couldn't stay contained," said Stamey. "I picked it up better in the second half and did alright. Just getting our hands out on the tight ends allowed us to contain them."
  In the fourth quarter, the Warriors faced a true gut-check. With 4:38 remaining in the game and the situation being 4th and 1 on their own 19-yard line, Ogg and company had the decision to punt or go for it.
  They chose the latter. Caldwell plowed ahead seven yards behind a determined offensive line to get the biggest first down of the game.
  "We had two options to go with and we didn't want to be kicking it because we had some issues," said Ogg. "That's just a bunch of players making a play."
  Unicoi would regain possession four plays later. Hodge and Cannon halted the attack, combining for three tackles that gave the ball back to HV.
  With 1:42 left on the clock, Black broke free on a 35-yard touchdown sprint for the final 20-9 score.
  "It's been due to the coaching and the work they have done with me as well as my teammates," said Black about his big night. "They encourage and put the courage in me. Without them, I couldn't do any of this.
  "If we can have Hollifield, Garland and me all with 100 percent games, we will be well off."
  Black had a career high 94 yards and two touchdowns on six rushes. Hollifield had 39 yards on nine carries and Garland had 44 yards on ten carries.
  "It's coach Ogg, he's worked with my footwork," said Black. "It was ugly. With the work he's done with me and the encouragement from my teammates, it's been well. It feels good to be a part of a senior class who never lost to them. It's something we will carry the rest of our lives. These close games stay in your heart."
  Despite the loss, there was noticeable improvement from the Blue Devils compared to a year ago. Happy Valley had a close 10-yard victory in the overall rushing total and only outgained Unicoi County 22 yards in total offense.
  Daniel Bishop was the leading rusher for the Devils with 67 yards, while Andy Ollis totaled 45 yards and Stephenson 44. Saul Delgado was the game's leading receiver with three catches of Ryan Scott passes for 27 yards.
  Lowe and Greg Swafford hauled in 22-yard and 11-yard passes respectively for Happy Valley.
  "It was wild," said Blue Devil defensive end Scott Schults, who recovered two fumbles. "The whole team is working every day as hard as we can. We have to keep fighting. Unicoi County football is on the way back. We are going to make it back."
  Once the contest ended, Pettit was overcome with emotion.
  "I had done a good job all week, but when Stan and all the kids came across the field it was emotional," said a teary-eyed Pettit. "I had been with those kids since sixth or seventh grade talking to them. When you get that kind of attachment, I love those guys.
  "I love my guys here. The first thing I told them when I walked in the locker room was how proud I was. When you look at where they came from and where they are going, I can't fault any of them."
  Ogg was happy for his former offensive coordinator's debut as a head coach as well as his team gutting out the win.
  "I told him to congratulate his players and staff for a great job because they outplayed us," said Ogg. "He did a better job preparing than I did. Not to take things away from our kids, but we got outplayed. We're still happy to be on top of the 20-9 end of it."
  Unicoi County (0-1) will host Sullivan East next Friday night. The Warriors (2-0) will play on Thursday when they open up the Watauga Conference campaign against West Greene.