'Dogs dispatch Unicoi County


Photo By Rick Harris
Bulldog receiver Eric Swain makes a 24-yard sideline grab.

By Jamie Combs
SPORTS EDITOR
jcombs@starhq.com
ERWIN--Hampton quickly jumped on top with a long strike, then, as if it was wielding a machete in a sugar cane field, slowly chopped down the rest of Unicoi County's hopes for a homecoming win.
Accumulating 19 first downs to control the clock, and holding the Unicoi offense to one touchdown, the Bulldogs defeated the Blue Devils 21-14 on Friday night at Gentry Stadium to earn their third consecutive victory.
"We won," said Hampton coach J.C. Campbell, whose club topped Unicoi for the third straight year. "We beat a good football team and we beat a lot bigger school, and I'm pleased and tickled with that. If you had told me the middle of the week, yesterday or 5 o'clock this afternoon that we'd win 21-14, I'd a grabbed you and hugged you.
"But we keep giving away scoring opportunities. But, on the other hand, we're creating a lot of scoring opportunities. I don't guess anybody can take advantage of all of them."
More than doubling Unicoi's offensive output (387-161), the 'Dogs (3-2) had chances to win the game by a wider margin. However, Hampton let points slip through its fingers in the first half, missing two field goals.
"I thought we controlled the game more than the final score showed," Campbell said. "Of course, we always give Erwin a touchdown over here on something long."
Dusty Stephenson's 96-yard kickoff return for a third-quarter Devil touchdown also helped keep the score close.
Although the 'Dogs surrendered a long touchdown, they showed they can score one of their own. On the fifth play of the contest, quarterback Mitchell Morton delivered a 61-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Eric Swain, who covered about half the distance after making the grab.
"The (defender) tipped the ball, it hit me right in the facemask, and I caught it off my shoulder," Swain said. "The safety ran me down and about tripped me with one leg. I was running out there and I thought I was going to bite the dust. The end zone seemed like it was 80 yards away. I thought I was never going to get there.
"We knew coming in here, and it being homecoming, that we had to get something good off that first drive."
Cody Walsh's extra-point kick gave Hampton a 7-0 lead.
Marching 63 yards on seven plays, the 'Dogs added to their advantage early in the second quarter, with tailback Zack Crabtree scooting his way to paydirt from three yards out. Walsh kicked another PAT, and the visitors were up 14-0.
Definitely needing to respond, the Devils answered with their best piece of offensive work, using seven plays to make a 78-yard journey to the end zone. A 37-yard pass from Hunter Sparks to Dusty Tolley served as the key play during the drive, and Cory Schwenke accounted for the six points on a powerful 9-yard run.
Emmanuel Mendoza booted the extra point, and the teams went to the half with Hampton on top, 14-7.
Hampton got back in the scoring act on its first possession of the second half. Placing the offense squarely on his shoulders, fullback Justin Waycaster first put the team in scoring position, then plowed his way to a 5-yard TD run. Walsh converted the point-after try, and the 'Dogs were up 21-7.
Unicoi, though, proved to be as game as a banty rooster. Stephenson scored on the ensuing kickoff, Mendoza hit another PAT, and the Devils (2-3) would continue to hang tough the rest of the way.
"One of the goals we set before we started the season was to be in games in the fourth quarter and playing to win," said Unicoi coach Larry Howell. "Last year, in most of our games, we were just out there playing for pride. This year we've been in all the games. We've made a lot of improvement, overall, and you've got to be pleased with that."
In the fourth quarter, Unicoi had the ball inside the Hampton 40 three times, but turnovers killed off the first two threats as Morton grabbed an interception and Waycaster recovered a fumble.
The Devils' last gasp saw Donny Singleton's eight-yard sack force a fourth-and-18 from the Hampton 43, then Sparks heaved a deep pass intended for Thomas Evely. Jacob Moss, however, had perfect coverage on the play, causing an incompletion.
"I thought we played real good defense," said Hampton defensive end/safety Dustin Crumley, who racked up seven tackles and a pair of sacks. "Our safeties and corners played good pass defense, and our line and linebackers played real good run defense. We kept their option play out. I thought that was their main play."
Taking over the ball with 3:13 to play, Hampton used Waycaster, who finished with a whopping 165 yards on 23 carries, to pick up two first downs and run out the clock.
Getting a Herculean performance from its offensive line, which consisted of Seth Clawson, Adam Potter, Eddie Lance, Brandon Bowling and Ian Miller, Hampton totaled 52 rushes for 277 yards. Johnny Price was out with an illness, giving Miller the chance to make a good impression.
"I'm awful proud of our offensive line," Campbell said. "They controlled the line of scrimmage pretty well. Ian did commendable, and I told Ian I thought he did pretty well. He probably did better than what we thought he would."
Becoming the first Bulldog player to record a 100-yard receiving game since B.J. Taylor (3 catches, 143 yards vs. Unaka) in 1996, Swain finished with five receptions for 110 yards. Serving as Morton's chief target, he accounted for all of Hampton's receiving totals.
"Our red zone offense isn't what it's supposed to be," said Swain. "That's something we're going to have to work on big-time this week in practice. But our running game has improved a whole lot, Mitchell's passing the ball and things are starting to fire on all cylinders for us."
Said Howell of Hampton: "They were much tougher up front, their running backs ran the ball hard and we had a hard time covering No. 23 (Swain). Whatever (Swain) was doing to get open, I hope ours start to do it."
Potter and Lance were the top tacklers for the 'Dogs, coming up with eight stops apiece. Morton had seven tackles, with Singleton and Bowling each chipping in six hits.
Jonathan Potter flourished as the Hampton punter, booming a 64-yard punt while averaging 48.3 yards on three attempts.
According to Crumley, it was important for the 'Dogs to enter their pivotal stretch in the Watauga Conference -- vs. Gatlinburg-Pittman, then vs. Happy Valley, then at Cumberland Gap -- on a positive note.
"It was real important," he said. "We've got Gatlinburg-Pittman coming up. We need to have a real good week of practice, with everybody doing what they've got to do."