Warrior win big for county schools

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff
For the second time in the past four years, the Happy Valley Warriors have chopped down the mighty Elizabethton Cyclones in high school football.
The 7-6 Warrior victory was a symbolic win for all the Carter County schools since Happy Valley is the only county school that faces off with its city rival in the Cyclone's No. 1 sport.
Could Cloudland's Mark Byrd still be Superman against the fast EHS defense? Would Hampton and J.C. Campbell be able to devise a ball-control plan to totally frustrate Elizabethton?
No matter which side you argue, it's purely speculation. Those teams don't play the Cyclones, so it is the Warriors' job to best represent all the county school programs. That makes the HV win extra special for those involved.
Brown-Childress Stadium is such an awesome football facility, with everything from the atmosphere to the support people involved first class.
Combine that with the tremendous EHS gridiron tradition. The Cyclones haven't had a losing season in the last dozen years and reeled off an amazing string of seven consecutive Big Seven Conference titles from 1994-2000.
Elizabethton has earned respect as one of the top three football programs in all of Northeast Tennessee. They remain the only school in this county to win a state title in football, taking the crown in 1938.
It's a daunting task for any group of players to come in and match up with the Cyclones. No offense to North Greene or Chuckey-Doak, but beating them compares little to toppling EHS.
Many Warrior players will take moments from this game on Sept. 12, 2003 with them the rest of their lives.
None was more dramatic than the open field tackle Michael Everhardt made on Cyclone tailback Lester Bailey at midfield with only seconds left in the game. All night you knew it was just a matter of time before Bailey broke the big one for a six-point score. This play was supposed to be it.
Bailey was gaining steam after taking off from the Cyclone 20 and if it weren't for the touchdown saving takedown, the outcome would have come out in favor of EHS.
"It was hard, he's so fast and quick," said Everhardt about the tackle. "He's really aggressive and he's the hardest person to tackle. This is the hardest team we'll ever play. I'm just glad we came out on top."
Tim Whaley had a dominating first half rushing for the Warriors, 18 carries for 110 yards. On defense, No. 33 came up with the interception that set up HV's only touchdown. He was tossed out of the game late in the third quarter after getting an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
In Whaley's absence, Michael Hollifield stepped in and made the biggest runs of the final Warrior drive. With the situation fourth and two at the EHS 16 and only 2:59 left in the game, Hollifield and the line plowed ahead with the necessary yards for a time-killing first down.
"The first big run I had really helped me out," said Hollifield. "I was very pleased to help my team out. I knew from that point we were going to win. We had to try that much harder when Whaley went out of the game. We gained respect because we beat Elizabethton. It's a real big thing to beat them."
Whaley was only one of three Warrior stars, who left the game early. Lineman Daniel Dover injured his leg shortly after halftime, while speedy receiver Ryan Garland hurt his wrist on a punt return.
With things apparently slipping away and arguably their three best players off the field, Happy Valley came together as a team instead of being a collection of individuals.
"It's a good win against a good football team," said Warrior head coach Stan Ogg. "It's a pride win. They have great facilities, great players and an outstanding tradition. Elizabethton is Elizabethton, you know the tradition.
"I think the kids can be proud. It's a credit to our coaches to have the players ready, especially when we had people go down. This win has to rank pretty high on the list of special wins."
New HV assistant coach Andy Curtis has mixed feelings. One of the best quarterbacks ever for EHS, he was a championship winning signal caller on that 2000 team. He still remains close to those involved with the Cyclone program, especially head coach Tommy Jenkins and the Elizabethton players.
"It's bittersweet," admitted Curtis, who shares the distinction of being a former Cyclone star with HV defensive coordinator Greg Hyder. "It's weird looking over at the other sideline. I know all those kids from Elizabethton and love them all.
"I think our kids had it in their heads, they could win the game. When you have that emotion and belief, you can do it. I thought (qb) Todd Caldwell did a great job managing the game for a 15 year-old kid."
Caldwell scored HV's only touchdown from three yards out on a quarterback keeper and directed the field in a way that belied his sophomore status.
"We knew one missed play could mean the ball game," said Caldwell. "We knew we had to control the ball and drive it down the field on them. For me, this is the biggest rivalry ever. I remember when I was a fifth grader coming to watch this game and how I couldn't wait to get out there. To beat a good team like Elizabethton is wonderful. We weren't going to give up."
For the Whitehead twins, Lance and Brandon, they were big defensive stoppers all night. Remarkable in Lance's case was that he missed all week of practice due to an injury suffered in last week's win over West Greene.
"I don't even know what to say," said Lance. "We worked so hard in the summer with guys sweating away. There was a lot of heart in winning this."
Brandon weighed in on the significance of the win to him.
"We had really good intensity coming out," said Brandon. "We knew we had to win this game. I was here as a freshman when we won the ballgame. I wanted to win it one more time with my brother my senior year and it was awesome. It's rare that Happy Valley beats Elizabethton. We just did what we had to do."
Rare because of talent the Cyclones always put on the field. Even though the Warriors did a masterful job containing Bailey, he still managed 109 yards on 15 rushes. Adam Turley showed he's the best receiver in the area making seven catches for 99 yards and fullback Jordan Bray made some tremendous power runs.
Three years ago, Happy Valley became the first county school to beat Elizabethton. Friday night, the Warrior class of 2003-04 scored another milestone, becoming the only class in Carter County history to topple the mighty Cyclones on two different occasions.