Warriors, Longhorns ready to bang heads

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com
You can more easily spot the similarities between Happy Valley and Johnson County football teams than their differences as the two get ready to lock horns on Friday night.
Both teams have scored early wins over Unicoi County and West Greene, and are saddled with only one loss going into the contest. In addition, they are each quarterbacked by two promising sophomores, HV's Todd Caldwell and the Longhorns' Jeffrey Brinker.
"He makes good reads," said JC assistant coach Austin Atwood about Brinker. "He does better running the offense than we expected. We let him audible quite a bit. Jeffrey never lets it go to his head. He's pretty dependable out there."
This week the Warriors (4-1) will regain the services of star tailback Tim Whaley, who set out last week's 28-7 loss to Gatlinburg-Pittman. From the outside, this week would appear to be a more favorable matchup with Whaley in the backfield.
"We have to play better than we did against Gatlinburg or we don't match up," said HV head coach Stan Ogg. "They will be better than us if we don't do things better. Gatlinburg got after us and they outplayed us. Our players and our coaches know that and we want to get better from the other night."
One player, who has gotten better weekly and shined brilliantly in the Gatlinburg game was defensive back Michael Everhardt. He may have won a starting job on the return teams, showing great bursts of speed as the Warriors as a team amassed 183 return yards.
Atwood, who is the head basketball coach at Johnson County, was filling in for his brother Mike for pre-game preparations. Mike Atwood had to undergo surgery Tuesday for an old neck injury that recently flared up. However, Mike is scheduled to be in the box calling offensive plays Friday with Austin on the sidelines.
"It's been a little different," said Austin about Mike's absence. "The boys can tell when he's not there. We didn't tell the kids about it until Monday. Since then, everything went smooth. Preparation went like normal, as normal as possible."
Many in the Warrior camp noted the emotional level was lower last week than the previous week when they upset highly touted Elizabethton.
"We can't concentrate on what we did the week before," said Ogg. "Was last week a letdown? I don't know that. We don't like to think that. We want to continue to get better. We had some players banged up, but that is not an excuse.
"We had 11 players out there every play than needed to get it done and didn't get it done. They came back to work to correct that this week."
One player the Warriors must keep an eye on is defensive standout Daniel Cranford, who plays a variety of positions for the Longhorns (3-1).
"He's one of the most versatile players we've ever had," said Atwood. "We might put him at middle linebacker, move him to the weak end to the strong end, you just never know. You have to get him blocked or he's going to make a play. He and Adam Johnson, who had 16 tackles last week against Unicoi are two you have to account for."
The Longhorns, whose 19-13 win over Unicoi came down to the final minute, are noted for playing in a power-I formation. It mirrors offensive sets the Warriors have seen as recently as last week.
"They're not as power oriented as Pittman, but they are close," said Ogg. "They will sometimes split an end and give you some pro sets. Johnson County is actually bigger than Pittman.
"They are always a big strong team that likes to run behind the tackles. If they get three yards behind them, they will get in the secondary. We will have to beat them to the punch and not let them get three yards past the line of scrimmage."
Another good matchup will be the Longhorns' talented receiver duo of Ian Prudhomme and Jeremy Cornett against HV defensive backs Drew Davis and Brian Black. Davis is the Watauga Conference leader with four interceptions.
The last time the game was played at Happy Valley two years ago, the Warriors scored a 35-0 blowout win. While Atwood and company have tried using that as motivation, most games between these two rivals are down to the wire, like the 7-6 HV win last season played on a muddy field in Mountain City.
"Last year was tough," stated Ogg. "The field was a mess. I was real proud our kids found a way to win. Our kids made an extra-point early and held Johnson County a foot short of the goal line when they went for a two-point conversion. Looking back on last year, that was a big win."
What Atwood notices most about the Warriors are qualities his own team possesses.
"They're big and physical and strong," said Atwood. "The war's going to be up front. If we can win some of those battles, we should be all right."
If there is an intangible in favor for HV, Friday night is Homecoming atop Warrior Hill. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. with the annual crowning of Homecoming Queen set for halftime of the game.