Bulldogs lay in wait for Blue Devils

By Jamie Combs
SPORTS EDITOR
jcombs@starhq.com

  Power football. It continues to carry a bigger role in the Hampton Bulldogs' style of play than the rabbit-in-the-hat trick in a cheap magic show.
  That bit of knowledge is nothing new to first-year Unicoi County coach Drew Pettit, who faced Hampton as a player for West Greene, then as an assistant coach for Happy Valley. Pettit, though, said it would be a mistake for his defense to give all its attention to the 'Dogs' blue-collar ways.
  "They probably throw the ball a little bit more than some of their teams in the past," said Pettit, whose Blue Devils (1-3) will serve as Hampton's homecoming opponent Friday night at J.C. Campbell Stadium. "(Zack) Crabtree does a great job at quarterback, and they've got a couple of receivers who will go get it. They'll pound you, pound you, pound you, and all of a sudden they'll be over the top of you if you're not careful."
  Averaging 22.6 yards a completion this season, Crabtree (9-of-23, 203 yards) has connected for at least one touchdown pass in three of Hampton's four games. None of his four TD throws covered less than 16 yards, and he was 2-of-2 for 49 yards and a pair of scores in last week's 41-0 Hampton victory over West Greene.
  According to Bulldog coach J.C. Campbell, the 'Dogs (2-2) were scheming to put the ball in the air with great regularity in 2004. However, a season-ending knee injury to receiver Jacob Moss in the first game of the year spoiled those plans.
  "You just had to throw it -- you didn't have to throw it to (Moss)," Campbell said. "He would just go get it. When we've thrown the ball; even when we didn't complete them, we had good chances to. I don't think we can live by the pass -- we're not good enough at it -- but we've got boys who can catch it."
  Cody Walsh, evidenced by his catches of 24 (TD) and 39 yards this season, is a big-play wideout for Hampton when he's not busy working from the tailback spot. Against West Greene, receiver Gene Sanchez and tight end Brandon Barnett made the first TD grabs of their careers.
  For an option offense, the passing game has been a legitimate threat for the veer-based Devils, who rely on the receiving skills of 6-2 tight end Dusty Tolley.
  Hunter Sparks and Ryan Scott have exhibited all-around effectiveness at quarterback for Unicoi, and Dusty Stephenson, Aaron Saylor and Andy Ollis form a solid tailback corps. Stephenson, who returned a kickoff 96 yards to paydirt in the Devils' 21-14 loss vs. Hampton last season, ran for 133 yards and a pair of TDs in their 45-22 throttling of Chuckey-Doak two weeks ago.
  An injury to Cody Hyatt has been leaving the Devils shorthanded at fullback -- Hyatt doesn't figure to return to action against Hampton -- but Daniel Bishop is doing well at the position, as well as linebacker. Linebacker/offensive tackle Cody Scott, defensive back Reuben Hyder and tight end/defensive end/linebacker Thomas Evely are other notables for Unicoi.
  Although the Devils are coming off a 27-7 loss to Johnson County, which beat Hampton 20-7 the week before, Pettit likes the way his team is progressing.
  "I feel like we're right on schedule," he said. "We're still learning lessons every week. We turned the ball over a little too much last week, and that was a big lesson to learn. We turned it over five times and put the defense in a bad situation several times, and we can't do that running this offense.
  "But the kids are learning to play hard. We've had a couple of times where we've gone out and played 48 minutes of really, really good football. Sometimes, we've had a little bit of a lapse. We didn't feel like we played our best game at Johnson County, but we had some real good positives come out of it. We're just going to keep plugging away."
  Campbell, whose team owns a three-game winning streak vs. Unicoi, sees a quality opponent coming to town.
  "They've got a good ballclub," he said. "They look pretty good to me. They're big and strong and there's a lot of them. They played Johnson County pretty good -- better than the score indicated."
  Campbell wants the 'Dogs to keep the ball out of the hands of the Unicoi offense, something that's hard to do without success on the ground. But tailback Cody Farmer gained 90 of Hampton's 331 rushing yards vs. West Greene, picking up a TD along the way, and fullback Jonathan Potter (35 carries, 210 yards on season) and Walsh (38-190) have been steady on a week-to-week basis.
  Martin Winters and Potter, both linebackers, and defensive end D.J. Oliver are the leading tacklers for Hampton with 31, 29 and 28 stops, respectively. Lucas Roark has three fumble recoveries, Johnny Price 2 1/2 sacks (made last week) and Barnett two interceptions.
  "The first day of practice, we never dreamed that we could get a yard on anybody or stop anybody," Campbell said. "We're not great, but (the coaching staff is) proud of the progress (the players) have made."
  Pettit would like nothing better than for his Devils to control the clock, noting that Unicoi's weekly goal is to have the ball 30 minutes.
  In the opinion of the Unicoi coach, the team that wins the most battles up front has the best chance to win the game.
  "Whoever steps up and decides to take control of the football game is going to do something," he said. "I hope it's us, but I know that Coach Campbell will have them ready to play."