Happy Valley trying to regain winning stride


STAR STAFF


  Going into the 2004 football season, Happy Valley's road trip to Cumberland Gap looked to be nothing special. It was simply game seven on the schedule against a team that's not considered a big rival.
  Six weeks later, it looms as the Warriors' biggest game of the season. After three straight defeats, the last two heartbreaking losses to Gatlinburg-Pittman and Johnson County, HV's players and coaches desperately need want to beat the Panthers.
  "A lot of them need good things to happen," said HV head coach Stan Ogg about his players. "They've definitely given the effort the last two weeks. We've played well enough to win, but a couple of things didn't go our way."
  By contrast, Cumberland Gap, 2-3 on the year, is coming off a big 14-0 win over archrival Claiborne last week.
  They came into 2004 losing star quarterback Corey Russell, but have found a capable replacement in Ryan Hoskins, the leading passer in the Watauga Conference.
  "We are still throwing the ball," said Panther head coach DeLynn Cline. "Ryan Hoskins, a junior, is our quarterback. As he's getting better, better -- we are as a team getting better, better."
  The passing game presents some challenges for Happy Valley, which has played run-oriented teams the last couple of games.
  "They will pressure your defense," said Ogg. "You are forced to defend all 53 yards sideline to sideline. They don't have the 6-3 quarterback from a year ago, but they still have some good players.
  "They throw it more than anyone in the conference. We will see the ball in the air more against them than probably anyone we've played other than North Greene."
  That could be a good sign for the Warriors, who handled the Husky passing attack in week one. Last week, they were very successful against Johnson County's passing attempts, as Drew Davis, Will Lowe and Greg Swafford all made interceptions. For Davis, it was his third pick of the season.
  Those three players are also a key in the HV offense, as noted by Cline.
  "They have got some good athletes," Cline said. "The wide receivers Davis and Swafford, tailback Ryan Garland -- we have to contain their speed. The fullback (Lowe) is unbelievable. He's a player."
  Garland ranks second in the Watauga Conference with 413 rushing yards.
  C-Gap counters with some fine players as well including top receiver Zeth Clemons, who plays linebacker on defense. Clemons leads the Watauga Conference with 328 receiving yards.
  Trevor Hestor is back at tailback after hurting his ankle in the first series against Rutledge. He made a return two weeks ago before missing the last contest due to illness.
  In his absence a freshman, Brad Beeson has taken most of the Panther rushing duties. That has been an Achilles heel on the C-Gap team. Very young, the Panthers field only four seniors on the varsity team and start two freshmen on defense.
  On the line, the Panthers do boast a pair of fine offensive guards in Chad Hall and Dustin Gulley.
  They will use many plays untraditional in East Tennessee high school ball, operating out of the shotgun, running motion and running the option.
  The Warriors will occasionally line up in the shotgun as well. It is a big game for quarterback Todd Caldwell. After starting the season on fire, he has seen his share of adversity the last three weeks.
  Asked if the struggles of the past three weeks makes this game more important, Ogg responded, "Sure it does. It also starts a stretch of four conference games. Every week is important from here on for our seeding in the region."
  One impressive characteristic has been how the Warriors seem to be digging deeper to end their current slide.
  "They're practicing well," said Ogg about his team. "We've had good work days all week. We have to bounce back, strive to what we want to achieve. It takes a team effort and they know the responsibilities to pick their teammates up."
  The game is the third Watauga Conference affair for the Panthers, who lost to South Greene, but defeated Chuckey-Doak. Happy Valley also stands at 1-1 with a win over West Greene before the Gatlinburg loss.
  A big difference in last year's contest was blocked punts, which turned the tide in favor of HV. That's an area Cline made sure to focus on this week.
  "We worked hard on special teams, especially protecting punts," said Cline. "Last year we came into the game without our second best player and had a freshman trying to keep punts from getting blocked."
  HV is looking at the bigger picture this week, more concerned about the overall result.
  "We have to run the football, but we still have to throw," said Ogg. "We are working on closing the deal unlike the last couple of games. We have to make plays on both sides of the ball."
  Due to Hurricane Ivan moving games to Thursday two weeks ago, Friday's contest will now be the homecoming game for Cumberland Gap.
  Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the school located off Highway 63 about four miles south of Harrogate, Tenn.