G-P ready to bring Warriors back to earth

Photo by Dave Boyd Happy Valleyƕs Drew Davis leads the Watauga Conference with four interceptions.

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff
Who could blame Happy Valley's football team for spending the first part of this week on Cloud Nine?
They had just dispatched Elizabethton, who appears to be the best team in Region 1-4A, and were rewarded with a No. 7 ranking in the state's Class 2A poll with two first-place votes.
Now the Warriors (1-0, 4-0) host Watauga Conference preseason favorite Gatlinburg-Pittman (1-0, 2-1), a team that has beaten them the past two seasons.
"The team has practiced well," said Happy Valley coach Stan Ogg, whose team is off to their best start since 1997. "We've done things to get ready for Gat-Pittman. The win last week was great for our kids, our community and our school.
"That was a big game, but this is a conference game. I have to believe Gatlinburg feels they are somewhere at the top of this conference. We have to look at what they have done in the past."
The reputation of the Highlanders is well earned. Head coach Benny Hammonds is in his 32nd year on the G-P sideline after stints at Morristown East and Cocke County. Over the years, Hammonds has complied an impressive record of 239 wins against only 103 losses.
For that reason, Hammonds and his team will not shun the favorite's role.
"There's no doubt about that," said Hammonds about being favored. "We've been around so long that the team has a tradition. Everybody wants to give you a good shot. Like playing Pigeon Forge last week, beating us would have made their year."
After losing 27-0 to Knox Catholic in week one, which Hammonds characterized as not playing worth a dime, G-P bounced back to whip Chuckey-Doak 56-6 and Pigeon Forge 42-13 their last two contests.
While this version of the 'Landers features the power game, they also appear to have more speed than in some years past.
"They seem a lot quicker in the backfield," said Ogg, who has coached the Warriors to the postseason the past two seasons. "Their tailback is only 175 pounds, but he can run. He gets to the point of attack in a hurry."
The skill players at G-P have racked up some impressive numbers. Last week quarterback David Mitchell threw for 160 yards on seven of eight passing with two td's. Receiver Sean Toomey was the recipient for 118 of those yards.
Tailback Josh Lott has come off two straight 100-yard plus efforts. He had 24 carries for 131 yards last week, and two weeks ago ripped Chuckey-Doak for 121 yards on 13 rushes.
The Warriors will be without the services of 2-A state player of the week Tim Whaley to counter with. Whaley is serving a one-game suspension for a personal foul in the Elizabeththon game. Second string tailback Ryan Garland is out as well with a broken bone in his arm, he received on a kickoff return.
"Ryan just had surgery where they were setting his arm," said Ogg. "We just hope he is ok."
That leaves duties in the capable legs of Michael Hollifield, who powered his way forward in a decisive final drive last week. Backing him up is speedy freshman Francisco Borquez. Lance Whitehead is also scheduled play some at the spot, when he's not at the fullback position.
"He doesn't necessarily outrun you, but he's hard to tackle," said Ogg about Hollifield. "He has pretty good leg drive and he makes you miss. He can do a pretty good job in the open field when he gets there."
Defensively Pigeon Forge is led by big tackle Josh Cornett up front, with linebacker Sean "Boom Boom" Rosenthal, Devin Smith and Michael Sutton giving them a good core of stoppers.
Happy Valley's defense, outstanding the last two weeks, have been powered up front by Josh Smith, Cane Cannon, Austin Shell and Jordy Harrison. The line should also regain the services of star nose tackle Daniel Dover, who didn't play the second half against the Cyclones with an injury.
Pittman and Happy Valley's last meeting atop Warrior Hill was a classic. After HV jumped out to a 13-3 lead, G-P stormed back to win 24-21 despite one of the best efforts ever given by a Warrior team.
"That was a close ballgame," Hammonds remembered. "In the years I've been here Happy Valley is one of those teams that always play well against us. They've upset us a couple of times.
"You always look on the schedule at who will play good against you. We know this will be a tough football team and we will have our hands full. I will feel lucky to get out of there with a win."
It is only the second home game this season for HV, who won over Unicoi County at home on week two. Many including Ogg think this could be the Tribe's toughest game on the schedule.
"They are an outstanding team, well-coached, that don't beat themselves," said Ogg. "They play an outstanding schedule. They play teams like Sweetwater, Knox Catholic and Seymour in the regular season.
"They try to beat in the offseason. They want to be more physical and stronger than you. That is their nature. They're big and physical, very much like a Region 2 (2-A) football team. If you're not ready for them, they are going to hammer you."