'Dogs pass big Watauga test

By Jamie Combs
SPORTS EDITOR
jcombs@starhq.com

   It was a game that left more nasty bruises than Baskin-Robbins has flavors of ice cream, and a game that took Hampton much closer to a Watauga Conference crown.
   With Hampton and the South Greene Rebels playing a punishing brand of high school football on Friday night at J.C. Campbell Stadium, the Bulldogs, for the second time this season, showed they were up to the big-game task by recording a 19-14 victory over the defending league champs.
   "This was the hardest-hitting game we've had all year," said Bulldog lineman Brad Hodge. "We just stepped it up a notch and kicked it in during the second half, like we always do."
   Breaking loose from a 7-7 halftime tie, the 'Dogs (2-0, 4-1) ended a four-game losing streak to the Rebels (0-1, 2-2) -- and put themselves in excellent shape to win their first Watauga title since 1996.
   "That was a great big step," said Hampton head coach J.C. Campbell, whose team had already beaten Happy Valley in a crucial conference game. "It's not anything final or anything like that. We couldn't stand another real tough conference game right in a row. We're beat up. We'll have more at the trainers than we'll have at the practices."
   Overcoming injuries and a stubborn bunch of Rebels, the 'Dogs gained sole possession of first place in the Watauga standings while West Greene, which lost to Happy Valley Friday night, fell out of a tie for the top spot.
   "Hopefully, we can lock this conference up," said Hampton fullback/linebacker Jimmy Sarrett, who gained a career-high 62 rushing yards on 14 carries and led the team with 12 tackles. "I feel good about this team -- we're doing well. After that first game (a loss to Cloudland), we've come back and played harder."
   Tailback Michael Peterson turned in an outstanding performance for the 'Dogs, scoring all three Hampton touchdowns and rushing for 127 yards on 24 carries, and interceptions by Justin Waycaster and Mitchell Morton spoiled South Greene's chances of a late comeback.
   Hampton controlled the game more than the final score indicated, beating South Greene in first downs 18-6 and total offense 285-159.
   "We played pretty doggone good," Campbell said. "South Greene's a good ball club. They're tough."
   The 'Dogs wasted little time getting on the scoreboard. After receiving the opening kickoff they ran the ball four times for 25 yards, then Morton dropped back and hit Peterson, who was streaking wide open toward the end zone, for a 31-yard touchdown pass.
   Cody Walsh banged through the extra point, putting Hampton on top 7-0.
   The rest of the first half offered a steady diet of Hampton moving the ball with consistency and keeping the South Greene offense stuck in low gear.
   However, none of that mattered when South Greene, on the final play of the half, scored on a 34-yard Hail Mary from Bruce Wright to Adam Smith, who caught the ball between a crowd of Bulldog defenders. Andy Ricker's PAT pulled the Rebels into a 7-7 tie.
   "I tried to let that go and start over from there," said Campbell when asked what he said to his club at halftime about the Rebel TD. "It was mentioned but nothing more than that."
   At the start of the third quarter, it was evident that South Greene's answered prayer had failed to swing momentum to the Rebels' side. Held to a three-yard negative on their first set of second-half downs, the Rebels booted a 16-yard punt that gave Hampton the ball at the South Greene 36.
   The 'Dogs responded by driving to the Rebel 6, where on fourth-and-2 they overpowered South Greene at the line of scrimmage and Peterson rammed through for a touchdown.
   Just three plays later, Jacob Culler recovered a Rebel fumble at the South Greene 31. That led to another 6-yard TD run by Peterson, and a 19-7 Bulldog advantage.
   "We try to wear teams down and get the momentum going after halftime," said Hodge, a solid force at guard. "We just try to come out and give 110 percent every time."
   To no surprise, South Greene wouldn't go away quietly as Wright and Smith connected for a second touchdown, this time on a 14-yard play late in the third quarter. Wright set up the score with an interception and 28-yard return to the Hampton 13.
   Waycaster, though, thwarted the Rebels by picking off a Ryan Ward halfback pass with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Then, with just over a minute to play, Morton sealed the Hampton victory by intercepting Wright near midfield.
   "It's always been close for us against South Greene," Sarrett said. "They're a good team."
   Morton also added 10 tackles to the Bulldog defensive charge, while Josh Nave, Robby England and Adam Potter contributed seven hits apiece.
   Never allowing Jeremy Sauceman to build up a full head of steam, Hampton held South Greene's highly-touted fullback to 34 yards on nine carries.
   "That was huge," Campbell said. "I think he was slowed a little bit by an ankle injury, but he still ran pretty well. If he runs wild on us, we're in trouble. I thought we did awfully well on him."
   Offensively, with receiver Eric Swain less than 100 percent and flanker Corey McKinney (concussion) out of action, the 'Dogs leaned heavily on their ground attack, gaining 220 yards on 55 attempts.
   Sarrett seemed to run with more conviction than he did the first four games of the year.
   "I got chewed out a little bit in practice, and it put a fire under me," Sarrett said. "I had a great line tonight. They blocked well for me."
   Hodge, England, Potter, Brandon Bolling and Pat Murphey got the job done up front, and when a sprained ankle forced Murphey out of the lineup in the second half, Eddie Lance did a commendable job filling in.
   "We had a couple of bad breaks and missed blocks," said Hodge, "but I thought the line did exceptionally well."