Gatlinburg-Pittman tops Happy Valley


Photo by Dave Boyd
Happy ValleyÕs Brandon Whitehead goes up for an interception, taking a potential reception away from PittmanÕs Sean Toomey.

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com
As good as advertised.
Gatlinburg-Pittman proved it is the team to beat in the Watauga Conference with a convincing 28-7 win over previously unbeaten Happy Valley Friday night atop Warrior Hill.
The Highlanders (2-0, 3-1) held HV to only 64 rushing yards on the night and only 96 yards of total offense. Meanwhile, their own offense, led by Josh Lott's 22 carries for 123 yards, racked up 266 total yards.
"Anytime you play an undefeated team on their home field it's a big game," said winning coach Benny Hammonds. "This game was sandwiched in between games against Pigeon Forge and Seymour, kind of the county rivalry like them and Elizabethton.
"We were dreading this game being sandwiched in between them with all the emotions, but we just emphasized for the kids to play hard every play. I think our boys did that, keeping their noses to the grindstone."
Coming into the game with a No. 7 ranking in the state's Class 2-A poll, Happy Valley (1-1, 4-1) was off to a best start since head coach Stan Ogg's undefeated team of 1997.
"They aren't real fancy in what they do," said Ogg about Gatlinburg. "They just get to the point of attack very quickly. They weren't giving us a lot of different looks on defense. They just had five or six players coming, but when they come they come.
"They were quicker to the point of attack than we were. They were in our backfield on defense and their tailback on offense quickly got past our line of scrimmage. That's why they were so successful."
The Highlanders showed they meant business on the game's opening drive taking the ball downfield on a 53-yard drive that featured Lott running seven of nine plays. Quarterback Daniel Mitchell finished off the drive, when he lowered his head and bulled in from one yard out to give G-P an early 7-0 advantage.
Despite Michael Everhardt taking the ensuing kickoff 53 yards down to the Lander 34, HV stalled offensively on their first possession.
After getting the pigskin back at their 3-yard line, G-P worked their way near midfield, where they punted back to the Warriors.
At that point Happy Valley put together their longest drive of the night, methodically moving from their own 20 to the GP 34 before stalling.
Once the Landers regained possession, Mitchell went to work. He completed two passes for 42 yards, leading an 80-yard march to the end zone. As 2:15 remained in the half, Devin Smith capped off the drive with a 14-yard jaunt for a 13-0 Gatlinburg lead.
The third quarter saw Lott finally get his piece of paydirt. He ran in an 18-yarder on a fourth and four situation and Smith added a two-point conversion to put Pittman up 21-0.
"We're not as big at tailback as years past, but Lott is a different type runner," said Hammonds. "I've never had anyone quite like him. He can stop and go backwards and go sideways. He likes to play football. He is a good headed person, plus he's tough as a pine knot."
G-P finished off their scoring in the final quarter after a short punt deep in HV territory handed them possession at the Warrior-21. Only six plays later, fullback Sean Rosenthal plunged in on a one-yard dive for a 28-zip Highlander advantage.
Happy Valley responded on the kickoff when Drew Davis made a 51-yard return to the Lander-37. After three passes, Michael Hollifield ran off tackle 27 yards for a Warrior touchdown. Casey Shatley booted the extra-point for the final score.
While Hammonds mentioned that Happy Valley didn't have the services of star tailback Tim Whaley and backup Ryan Garland, and that injured lineman Daniel Dover saw only limited action, no one on the Warrior side was interested in excuses.
"This is a good group of players," said Ogg. "They don't want to find excuses why it was 28-7. They just want to get better. Tonight, we are quite a ways from their (G-P's) level, but the kids will find a way to close that gap. The kids will bounce back and we will get them where they need to be."
Even in their first loss of the season, the Warriors did have several fine individual performances. Down to the fourth string at punter one time in the third quarter, Derrick Hamm came up with a timely 40-yard punt when HV was backed up at their end zone.
Senior Preston Head occupied the spot vacated by Whaley on defense and registered six tackles.
"I just played hard trying to fill in for Tim," remarked Head. "That's a big loss. Man, we tried hard. We should have done better, but they are a pretty good team. They got after us. We did what we could do, but we just have to get better."
Brandon Whitehead tried keeping HV in the contest by grabbing the game's lone interception and making a fumble recovery.
"Our team came out with what we thought was great intensity," said Whitehead. "We really wanted this, because this is our conference championship right here. We were excited, but nothing really happened for us.
"We thought all week we could beat them, but they beat us about everywhere on the field. There wasn't much we could do about it. I just did the best I could with the turnovers, but I believe they played harder than we did. We're halfway through the season and just have to take it one game at a time now."
One area where HV did outshine the 'Landers was on special teams. The Warriors led by Everhardt, amassed 183 return yards to only 45 for their opponents. Everhardt also blocked an extra point and downed a punt at the G-P three yard line.
"They asked me to step up to the plate after Ryan broke his arm," said Everhardt. "I said, 'Why not?' I'm glad they did ask me to return kicks and run. I thought I did OK, but that's a real good team over there. They just beat us to the ball and they stopped us on the run."
After the key league victory, next up for G-P is the aforementioned matchup with cross county rival Seymour. The Warriors will have Homecoming next Friday night, where they face off with a tough Johnson County team, who like HV will come in with only one loss.