Bulldogs prep for improved Devils

By Jamie Combs
SPORTS EDITOR
jcombs@starhq.com
The main methods of the Hampton High football team are still as plain and old-fashioned as Kellogg's Corn Flakes swimming in a bowl of cold milk.
Sticking with the "try to run over people, get the ball back, then try it again" approach has won J.C. Campbell a lot of games during his Bulldog coaching career, and he doesn't see much reason to deviate from proven tactics.
"We're just trying to get a little more sound in the things we do," said Campbell, who leads his club into Erwin's Gentry Stadium for a battle with the Unicoi County Blue Devils this Friday night. "We are what we are, and that's all that we are.
"We've not done some things this year as well as I thought we would. We've tried to work on them some, but more or less, the things that we're doing well, we're going to stick with. We're going to dance with what brung us."
When they combat the much-improved Devils (2-2), who have already doubled their win total from last season, the 'Dogs (2-2) will be looking to shuffle their way above the .500 mark for the first time this season.
Campbell understands that probably won't be easy.
"They've had some bad luck -- they're a pretty good football team," he said of the Devils. "They're good on both sides of the ball. They move the ball well; they run a lot of formations -- run a lot of sets. The quarterback can keep the ball and run well. He throws it pretty well. They've got a good inside game and they've got a lot of players."
Just last week, Unicoi gave Johnson County, a team Hampton edged 8-7 two weeks ago, all it could handle before dropping a 19-13 decision.
Take away a few of the turnovers (six) and costly penalties the Devils had in that game, and the victory could have easily gone the other way.
Asked if a reduction in those type of miscues gives his team a decent chance to defeat the 'Dogs, Unicoi coach Larry Howell replied: "We'll have to reduce them to zero, probably. We can't afford to have any turnovers and any penalties."
Howell figures his Devils are in for quite a struggle against the 'Dogs.
"Big, physical, well-coached, a tremendous challenge," said Howell, describing Hampton. "For Knox Catholic to beat them as bad as they did (49-18), they must have a heck of a team. They must have an awful speedy team. Hampton's probably going to be the most physical team we play up front.
"We've got to do a good job of tackling, and staying with our blocks on offense to have a chance."
Leaning heavily on their boys up front -- Adam Potter, Brandon Bowling, Eddie Lance, Johnny Price and Seth Clawson -- fullback Justin Waycaster (346 yards rushing) and tailback-by-committee, the 'Dogs have moved the ball well most of the season.
Nevertheless, Hampton needs to improve its efficiency deep in enemy territory.
"We've got to take better advantage of our opportunities," Campbell said. "If you start getting too cautious, start dreading it or getting too scared, you've just got to go ahead and go with your gut feeling according to what the defense is doing. You just have to do what you think you can do."
Quarterback Mitchell Morton's improving health could make for better results. Morton passed for a pair of touchdowns and ran for two others in last week's 36-0 Hampton win over West Greene, signs that he's settling into a nice groove. Receiver Eric Swain appears to be rounding into top form, which could further aid the situation.
Defensively, the 'Dogs have allowed only seven points over their last nine quarters. While Sean Moody (team-high 32 tackles) has stepped forward as a solid linebacker, sophomore Brandon Barnett is a fast improving player in the secondary, and Potter is coming off a productive game (6 tackles, 1/2 sack) on the line.
Hampton, however, may have its hands full with Unicoi quarterback Hunter Sparks, who has carried the ball 38 times for 174 yards and five touchdowns, and completed 17 of 35 passes for 267 yards and two TDs.
Running back Cory Schwenke (48 carries, 231 yards, 1 TD) and receiver Dusty Tolley (6 receptions, 169 yards, 1 TD) complement the Devil offense, and linebacker Thomas Britt is a catalyst for Unicoi on the defensive side of the ball.
From a team standpoint, hustle has been a Unicoi hallmark.
"As far as the things we don't like, it's the mistakes they make -- but they play hard," Howell said. "It's not like they're making mistakes, then laying down. They're at least in the fight."
Unicoi has always been in the fight when hosting Hampton. The 'Dogs, winners of the last two contests in this series, have never had an easy game on Devil soil. Hampton's all-time record in Erwin is 4-6.
"When we've beaten them over there, it's always been close," Campbell said. "We've lost two or three close ones over there, too. It's just a tough place to win."
Friday night marks homecoming for Unicoi.