BullDogs, Warriors make for early yet critical Watauga Conference contest

By Jamie Combs

SPORTS EDITOR
jcombs@starhq.com

   Left as sticky as the inside of a cotton candy machine by practicing in the late-summer heat, both the Hampton Bulldogs and the Happy Valley Warriors hope to bathe in a steady stream of football excellence this Friday night atop Warrior Hill.
   Hooking up for a huge Watauga Conference tilt -- the league opener for both teams -- the 'Dogs (1-1) and Warriors (1-0) get things started at 7:30.
   "It's a tough game right here early in the year," said Hampton head coach J.C. Campbell. "You hardly have your feet on the ground; you don't know what you can do and what you can't do. I'd like for the schedule to be a little different but that's the way it is."
   Although these longtime rivals don't need a special reason to play each other hard, the result of Friday night's game could have a lasting effect on this season's conference standings.
   Last year's outcome -- a 17-14 Hampton win -- led to the 'Dogs being at home for the first round of the state playoffs and the Warriors going on the road. There might be more at stake, like the Watauga title, this time around.
   "It's going to take 10 weeks to sort out," said Warriors head coach Stan Ogg, "but obviously, when you only have four conference games, you don't have too much room for error when you're trying to contend for a regional championship. We've talked about (weeks 2, 4, 6 and 10) just about every week since spring football. Obviously we want to play well on weeks 1, 3, 5, 7, 8 and 9, but weeks 2, 4, 6 and 10 are Region 1 football games."
   While some circles project Hampton as this year's favorite to claim the Watauga crown, other circles see Happy Valley as the squad that will finish on top of the heap.
   Either way, Campbell knows his 'Dogs are dealing with a very fine opponent, and that a Hampton victory would go down as no small feat.
   "Beating Happy Valley would be a step in the right direction," Campbell said of Hampton's title hopes. "It would look good on paper, anyway. They (conference opponents) are all pretty good, but I think Happy Valley is the team to beat."
   The top reason Campbell holds the Warriors in such high regard is the amount of all-around skill they possess in senior quarterback Lamar Rollins, senior fullback Cody Cannon and junior tailback Tim Whaley.
   "If you can get what you call a feature running back in our league, you feel pretty good about yourself," Campbell said. "They've got three. That's triple trouble. We've got to go after them and get people to the ball. We'll never get them down if we don't."
   Whaley carried the ball 13 times for 138 yards and caught a 78-yard Rollins touchdown pass as Happy Valley opened with a 47-21 whipping of Unicoi County. Cannon, showing trademark power, ran for three TDs while Rollins added a rushing score.
   Overall, Ogg felt good about his team's first showing of the 2002 campaign.
   "The coaches were very pleased with the intensity," he said. "We were pleased with the outcome, we were pleased with playing a lot of people and we were pleased by how hard we played. Like everybody else, the first game you have some mistakes."
   Freshman back Ryan Garland is young but fast, and Kenneth Campbell, Daniel Dover and Jordy Harrison anchor the Happy Valley line.
   As for Hampton, it bounced back from a loss to Cloudland by running roughshod over the North Greene Huskies last week for a 46-8 triumph. Michael Peterson rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, and Mitchell Morton threw for a pair of scores and ran for one in helping the 'Dogs build a 34-0 halftime advantage.
   "Hampton's got a good football team," Ogg said. "Overall, they aren't quite as big as they were a year ago. (Peterson) looks bigger in uniform. He has great feet -- he has our full attention. Their quarterback (Morton) has gotten bigger, and he throws the ball well. They've got kids who can catch it, and two or three kids returning in the secondary."
   Seniors Robby England, Brad Hodge and Pat Murphey give the 'Dogs a bit of an experience edge in the trenches, and Ogg said the Warrior coaches are impressed by the performance of Bulldog linebackers Josh Nave and Jimmy Sarrett.
   Ultimately, if recent tradition continues, this battle almost promises to be a thriller. In the last five meetings between the Warriors and 'Dogs, four of those games were decided by no more than seven points (both teams won twice).
   "It's gone down to the wire about every year," said Ogg, who sports a 3-2 record vs. Hampton. "I expect Hampton to give us everything they've got, and we plan on doing the same."
   J.C. Campbell, whose club has won the last two in this series, said, "We'll have to play real well to win."