'Dogs face big clash with Rebels

By Jamie Combs
SPORTS EDITOR
jcombs@starhq.com

   The company motto for General Electric is "We bring good things to life." The South Greene and Hampton football teams know the feeling.
   Creating one of the week's premier contests in Upper East Tennessee, the Rebels and Bulldogs clash in a battle of Watauga Conference powers at J.C. Campbell Stadium on Friday night.
   "Any team that J.C. Campbell coaches is a legitimate threat," said South Greene head coach Larry Ricker. "This particular team is like the old Hampton teams I first became familiar with as a South Greene person. They're strong up front and very athletic. They've got that one breakaway threat in the backfield, and smashmouth football is what they play.
   "We'll have our hands full."
   South Greene (0-0, 2-1), the defending league champ, was supposed to slip a notch below its performance of a year ago, but Hampton head coach J.C. Campbell has yet to see that happen.
   Campbell thinks the Rebels are once again very much for real.
   "South Greene's got a pretty good looking football team," Campbell said. "I knew they wouldn't be bad. I thought they might be down a little bit, but they look as good as their team did last year. They just do it a different way. Instead of being quick, they do it more with power."
   A week after stopping a four-game losing streak to Johnson County -- with an 8-7 win -- Hampton (1-0, 3-1) seeks to halt a string of four straight losses to the Rebels.
   Considering that last year's South Greene-Hampton game -- a 21-6 Rebel conquest -- ultimately decided the league title, it's probably safe to say there's quite a bit riding on Friday night's showdown.
   "With only five teams in the conference," said Ricker, "any particular night is a must-win -- particularly since Hampton has already beaten Happy Valley, a team that can beat anybody on any given night. With that win under their belts, this is definitely a have-to-win situation for us in hopes of becoming regional champs."
   The 'Dogs will perhaps find themselves in the Watauga driver's seat should they defeat South Greene.
   "We would be in better position than anybody else," Campbell said. "We don't want to start overlooking people. We'd be in the best situation at the time."
   The Rebels, coming off an open week, lost a close season-opener to Rutledge, then bounced back to defeat Johnson County and Rye Cove, Va.
   Jeremy Sauceman, the league's top scorer (52 points) and third-leading rusher (224 yards), is a force at both fullback and inside linebacker for the Rebels, who possess solid offensive performers in quarterback Bruce Wright (231 yards and 4 TDs passing) and receiver Anthony Thomas (4 receptions, 93 yards).
   "We can't throw the ball down and give good field position like we did last week," Campbell said. "I don't think we can stop South Greene as long as we did Johnson County."
   Andy Ricker, another inside linebacker, complements Sauceman in the middle of the South Greene defense, while Nathaniel Greene provides excellent play at outside linebacker.
   "The entire team has improved from the word go," Larry Ricker said. "We couldn't go anywhere but up. The thing I'm concerned about is that we need to be more aggressive. We have to play smashmouth football or we'll get smashed in the mouth."
   While Hampton has been getting great defensive production from linemen Robby England and Adam Potter, tailback Michael Peterson, the 'Dogs' breakaway threat in the backfield, is leading the Watauga in rushing with 422 yards.
   Quarterback Mitchell Morton has accounted for five touchdowns on the ground and completed 23-of-37 passes for 279 yards (second highest total in conference), three touchdowns and no interceptions.
   However, Hampton enters this key game in wounded fashion. It looks as if Corey McKinney, a big contributor at safety and flanker, will be out of action due to a concussion. Knee and elbow injuries have Eric Swain, the league's leading receiver (10 receptions, 140 yards), listed as highly questionable for Friday night.
   That leaves Kevin Harrison and tight-end Josh Nave to possibly see more passes thrown their way, and could lead to an increased role in the secondary for junior Dustin Crumley.
   Hampton's depth has certainly improved this year, and might help the 'Dogs get by.
   "We're playing a lot more people," Campbell said. "Maybe not for a long period of time, but a lot of them are getting in the game to play a few plays here and there and helping out."
   On a positive note for Hampton, starting linebacker Justin Waycaster, who missed the Johnson County game with a neck injury, will return to the Bulldog lineup.
   Action kicks off at 7:30.