Longhorns looking for payback against HV

By Jeff Birchfield
star staff

  One season ago, Happy Valley celebrated homecoming atop Warrior Hill with a 20-7 victory over Johnson County.
  Friday night, the Longhorns look to return the favor at their own homecoming celebration. They enter the game fresh off a 27-7 win over Unicoi County.
  "We were happy with the outcome," said Johnson County coach Mike Atwood. "We cut our turnovers down. Unicoi is a good team, who ran the option well."
  Extra motivation won't be needed by the Warriors. Now 3-2 on the season with back-to-back losses, they would like nothing more than to end the undefeated run of the 4-0 Longhorns, ranked No. 10 in the state in the latest Class 4-A poll.
  "You shouldn't need motivation to play," remarked Happy Valley coach Stan Ogg. "It's a big game at their place and we're playing a darn fine opponent. You don't see any weaknesses.
  "They aren't doing fancy things. Number one, people aren't scoring on them. Number two, they are making 15-play drives controlling the clock."
  While T.R. Smith has deservedly gotten most of the press this season with three games over 195 yards rushing and 767 yards for the season, right tackle is where many of the running lanes are opened.
  "We start with big John Stout on offense," said Atwood. "If he has a good game, we will probably have a good game.
  "He's our right tackle and will probably go against Jordy Harrison their best defensive lineman. John's our best offensive lineman, so that's the way it should be."
  While the focus might be on Stout and Harrison, Happy Valley's Cane Cannon, Michael Higgins and Daniel Guinn line play has been solid the last two games.
  "We've had different people step up," said Ogg. "We've stumbled at times, excelled at times. The key is to excel most of the time. When we've been successful running and throwing the football is when the line has moved people out of the way."
  Scouting HV, Atwood made the following assessment.
  "As usual they are big up front," he said. "They have a quick backfield and secondary. It looks like they pass a little more than usual. They have a good quarterback, good receivers and a good receiver out of the backfield."
  The Warrior quarterback Todd Caldwell has hit a variety of receivers the last two games. Six different players, Chris Rutledge, Ryan Garland, Drew Davis, Greg Swafford, Jon Stamey and Will Lowe caught passes against Elizabethton.
  On the ground, tailbacks Garland and Michael Hollifield are averaging 7.1 and 8.1 yards per carry respectively. Despite the good numbers the offense has averaged only 6.5 points per game in the last two contests.
  "We know it's a team effort," said Ogg. "Right now the offense is struggling, but we have a lot of confidence in the offense, in our skill players.
  "We have to convert our passing plays into points."
  The 'Horns passing game has been obsolete in two games, last week's win and versus Sullivan Central. Atwood doubts that will be the case against Happy Valley.
  "We've been working on the passing game," said Atwood. "So far nobody has stopped the run. We probably will have to throw this week. They stick the middle pretty good."
  Logan Birchfield is a linebacker that has done a good job getting to the opposing backfield. His hard play and that of others was evident in the most recent game.
  Officially going down as a 17-13 loss to perennial power Gatlinburg-Pittman, it was by far the Warriors' best effort of the season.
  "Our players have been playing hard," said Ogg. "We have to make some breaks. We're coaching them at forcing turnovers. You can't just sit there and be wishful, you have to coach for it and play for it."
  Other 'Horns besides Smith getting a lot of publicity this season has been linebacker Jeffrey Brinker, quarterback Jesse Jenkins and tight end/defensive lineman Mitchell Harper.
  A couple not getting as much ink, but playing well the last two games have included center/linebacker Tommy Gregg and defensive back Shane Humphrey.
  "Shane has had seven or eight tackles and a couple of pass breakups in the last couple of games," said Atwood. "He's a senior and a good leader for our secondary."
  Asked what stood out about Johnson County on film, Ogg responded, "They have the same offensive and defensive philosophy that Gatlinburg had. The Mountain City team has gotten stronger over the last year.
  "They are very similar to Gatlinburg. They have the same size kids. We have to be physical. They want 2nd and 5 every time. They don't want 2nd and 11 or 3rd and 9. We have to stop them first and second downs and make plays on third down."
  Community backing for the 'Horns around Mountain City is always stong. The early sprint out of the gate takes it to another level.
  "We've always had good support from the community and school," said Atwood. "This year it's great. Everybody likes a winner."
  The kickoff is set for 7:30 at McEwen Stadium.