Daunting task for Bulldogs

By Jamie Combs

  Hampton has been known to climb a pretty high mountain from time to time, but tradition tells us that Gatlinburg-Pittman is to a slippery slope what Radio Shack is to selling brand-name electronics.
  The Bulldogs will try to find some way to conquer the challenging Highlander terrain when they visit Pittman for a Watauga Conference football encounter on Friday night.
  "I don't know if we can play with them, but we're going to go there and give it a shot," said Hampton coach J.C. Campbell. "There are some things we are capable of doing. We're capable of playing a pretty good football game -- it's a matter of getting the players all on the same page and getting after it."
  Yet to lose a league game during its 1 1/2 years as a Watauga member, Pittman (2-0, 3-2), a longtime East Tennessee power, appears poised to repeat as conference champion. In the two league contests they've played this year, the Highlanders clobbered Chuckey-Doak, 55-7, and defeated Happy Valley, a team some predicted to contend for the title, 17-13.
  Still, that doesn't mean that Pittman will be overlooking Hampton (1-0, 2-3).
  "They've got a 2-3 record, but they've lost to three pretty good teams," Highlander coach Benny Hammonds said of the 'Dogs, losers to Unicoi County and two unbeatens, Johnson County and Knox Catholic. "They've got some boys who are impressive. They've got some good skill people, and their line has some quick boys on both sides of the ball. It's definitely going to be a challenge for us to beat them."
  Hammonds singled out quarterback Zack Crabtree, tailback Cody Walsh, fullback/linebacker Jonathan Potter and defensive back/tight end Brandon Barnett as solid Hampton performers, but Crabtree probably won't get the chance to cause the Highlanders any problems. Nursing an injured knee, the senior signal-caller is listed as doubtful for this week's game.
  "I don't see it happening," Campbell said about Crabtree getting on the field.
  Lucas Roark, regularly a tight end on offense, is expected to step in at QB if Crabtree is unable to play.
  The Highlanders boast the Watauga's leading rusher in Devin Smith, who has gained 484 yards on 94 carries. Smith has scored five touchdowns, and on defense he has three fumble recoveries and two interceptions to his credit.
  Jordan Jones, with 45 carries for 230 yards, is another key runner for Pittman, which is passing the ball a little more than usual this season, averaging 13 throws per game. Jake Reagan has completed 33 of 60 pass attempts for 394 yards and a pair of scores, and Rollie File tops the Highlanders in receptions (11) and receiving yards (134).
  "They're the same Gatlinburg (as always)," Campbell said. "They hustle, they hit, they run over you. The thing about it now, they set in the twin receivers throwing the ball a little, and run a little old option and stuff like that along the way. Usually, they just line up and try to overpower you."
  Campbell would like to see better defensive hustle and hitting from the 'Dogs than what he saw in their 14-12 loss to Unicoi this past Friday night. Furthermore, Hampton allowed promising scoring opportunities to slip through its fingers against the Blue Devils.
  "If you can't tackle, you're not going to beat anybody," Campbell said. "There were 19 ways we could have won that game last week. But doing it at the time -- nooooo."
  Martin Winters and Adam Townsend did salvage a couple of defensive bright spots from the Blue Devil tilt, recording 16 and 10 tackles, respectively. Offensively, Walsh rushed for 70 yards on 16 attempts.
  Ultimately, the 'Dogs should be anxious to get back on the field, and so should Pittman, which fell 31-7 to Sevier County rival Seymour in last week's activity.
  "That's the worst we've gotten beat by Seymour in a long time," Hammonds said. "We usually hold our own against them, but they pretty much manhandled us. At least you've got a chance to redeem yourself the next week -- it's not like getting beat in the playoffs. I sure hope we can play a little better than we did against Seymour."
  Acknowledging that Seymour got the best of the Highlanders in the trenches, Hammonds said the Pittman linemen, an experienced and senior-laden group, must come out and be a little more aggressive.
  "Hopefully, everything will all come together and they'll play better than last week," Hammonds said.
  Pittman's other loss came to Knox Catholic. The Highlanders' non-league victory was over Pigeon Forge, another Sevier County rival.