Pittman survives Warriors


star staff


  GATLINBURG -- It was well worth the wait.
  Sticking to the Friday night schedule instead of moving up the game to Thursday as most area schools had for Hurricane Ivan, Gatlinburg-Pittman beat Happy Valley 17-13 in a hard-fought Watauga Conference battle at Hammonds Field.
   "You're muddy and dirty and wet and on the bottom of end of 13 and 17, but the effort the kids gave was phenomenal," said HV head coach Stan Ogg. "People make breaks and things happen, but every time someone in a white jersey responded."
  G-P drew first blood with barely two minutes off the game clock. Jordan Jones ran in a seemingly easy 22-yard touchdown.
  However, as Ogg mentioned, the Warriors responded.
  Bryan Black returned the kickoff a full 41 yards. Just two plays later, Michael Hollifield took an option pitch from quarterback Todd Caldwell and raced 40 yards into the end zone. Casey Shatley's extra point tied the game at 7-7.
  Despite the early flurry of offense, defense rules the rest of the night. G-P taking over at midfield did drive the ball down to the Warrior 3.
  Faced with fourth down, the decision was made to bring on kicker Rollie File, who booted a 20-yard field goal. The score now was 10-7.
  Following possessions by both teams went nowhere. The next score came on the defensive side when Lander pressure hurried the throw of HV quarterback Caldwell.
  Devin Smith picked off the pass and raced 27 yards to the end zone. With the extra point, the score read 17-7.
  The defensive struggle continued throughout the rest of the quarter. Happy Valley finally did receive a break late with a botched punt snap giving them possession at G-P's six.
  Two three-yard bull rushes by Hollifield put the Warriors back in the end zone for a 17-13 score at the half.
  "It was great," said HV guard Jordy Harrison. "That gave us the confidence to take it in the second half. We played hard.
  "This team has something to look forward to. After last week (a loss to Elizabethton) we felt so bad. We're not going to let that happen again. We're going to play hard every down."
  The Warriors did just that in the second half. Defensive highlights included stops behind the line of scrimmage for Harrison, Will Lowe, Ryan Garland, Logan Birchfield and Cane Cannon.
  "I've been trying to get that every bit of effort," said Cannon. "Everybody gave so much out of this. It's an honor to be a Warrior right now. Even though we lost on the scoreboard, we won in our hearts."
  HV appeared to have a shot to get the ball back in good field position midway in the fourth quarter, before a fourth down penalty kept the Highlander drive alive.
  At that point, Hammonds stuck to a game plan of running the ball straight ahead. Chewing up small chunks of yardage and a huge amount of time, less than two minutes remained on the clock when the ball was returned to HV at the Warrior 3.
  On first down, Caldwell and Ryan Garland hooked up on a nine-yard pass. Three ensuing plays could not produce a first down, ending the ballgame.
  The Highlanders only attempted one pass attempt the entire second half. Smith led the rushing charts with 134 yards on 26 carries, Jones added 70 yards on 19 rushes.
  Hollifield and Garland each had eight runs for HV, with 43 and 19 yards respectively. Chris Rutledge led all receivers with four catches for 34 yards. Greg Swafford with 66 yards and Garland with 59 topped the return yards list.
  "We missed some opportunities and they did too," said G-P coach Benny Hammonds, who sounds like and looks like NASCAR legend Junior Johnson. "Our defense played good the second half.
  "When you play in those conditions, it levels the field for both teams. We were focused on scoring quick. We did, but they came back."
  They say sports is a great teacher and in many ways this game was a microcosm of life. Sometimes you give your best, but mistakes mean you come up a little short.
  Just like a good work enviroment, the Warriors' attitude were not to place blame, but to pull together as a unit trying to correct those problems.
  "We do things as a team," said Ogg. "I pat everyone of those players on the back. It's tough sitting in the rain 100 miles from home.
  "Gatlinburg-Pittman is a good, hard-nosed football team. That's why they are conference champions and were 3-A champions before that. We stood toe-to-toe with them."
  HV's players were equally as proud of what they did on the field.
  "It was just tremendous," said Harrison. "We gave so much effort. The people back home can't see it. We just didn't get it done on the scoreboard and it hurts."
  Added Cannon, "This team came together and believed in each other. This entire week we practiced so hard for this game. We gave every single effort. I was proud of everyone on the field."
  Gatlinburg felt even a notch better taking the win. They do realize the road to repeating as conference champions has some tough turns ahead.
  "Even though it's early in the season, we told our boys losing to Happy Valley meant they had to lose twice," said Hammonds. "We realize we still have some big games to go, especially South Greene and Hampton."
  With the win, G-P improved to 2-0 in the conference and 3-1 overall before facing Sevier County rival Seymour next week. Happy Valley (1-1, 3-2) also travels outside league play to oppose Johnson County next Friday.