Warriors subdued by Rebels

By Jeff Birchfield

   GREENEVILLE -- Favored since preseason, South Greene (4-0, 9-1) closed out a perfect campaign in the Watauga Conference on Thursday night, beating Happy Valley (2-2, 5-5) by a score of 27-6 atop Rebel Hill.
   "We had a great year," stated Rebel head coach Larry Ricker about the championship-winning season. "I told our guys that I was proud of the things they had done. We talked about it this summer and this is a dream come true for any football team. We've earned this.
   "We really stepped up on defense when we needed to. I thought at prime time, different guys did a good job for us."
   This final hurdle for the Rebels started out as a hard-nosed defensive struggle. Happy Valley's Forrest Holt and Daniel Dover made big tackles behind the line of scrimmage in the opening minutes, while South Greene countered by holding the Warriors to 29 offensive yards in the first half.
   Neither team scored in the first quarter, although the Rebels threatened after Adam Hansel intercepted a Lamar Rollins pass deep inside HV territory.
   However, the Warrior defense held tough, getting the ball back on their own nine-yard line. Lamar Rollins made a 10-yard scamper and Happy Valley started to gain some momentum. But, the next play thwarted the HV drive as a costly fumble was recovered by SG's Nathaniel Green.
   With the ball on the Warrior 10-yard line, the Rebels took full advantage of their second attempt in the red zone. Fullback Neal Ricker scored the game's first points on a one-yard plunge at 7:59 of the second quarter.
   "South Greene is a very good football team," said Happy Valley head coach Stan Ogg, whose team was plagued by six turnovers and 12 penalties. "They outplayed us. They have some serious weapons, but turning the ball over to them hurt. Our defense was playing hard and did a good job, but they were put in bad field position with turnovers.
   "You can't do that against a good offensive football team like they've got. I thought our defense played extremely hard. We just put ourselves in a hole. It's too tough to give a good football team a short field."
   The Warriors averted another disaster on the next play after South Greene's first TD, when Jordan Fenner recovered an onside kick attempt. Two plays later, it was in vain as HV laid it on the ground again and the Rebels' Anthony Thomas scooped it up.
   With possession of the ball, Hansel showed his athletic prowess on a 29-yard run up the middle of the field. Four plays later, Ricker plowed in for his second touchdown from four yards out. South Greene held a 14-0 lead that they took into the locker room.
   In the third quarter, Happy Valley turned the ball over again as Hansel intercepted a second Rollins pass and returned it 33 yards to the Warrior 12. The next play, Hansel took the snap from his quarterback position and ran in a dozen-yard touchdown himself for a 20-0 Rebel lead.
   "Hansel is a coach's dream come true," said Ricker about his star QB, who led all players with 12 rushes for 105 yards. "They can have you stopped and he's that type of player who can make things happen. He's the x-factor on our team right now."
   Added coach Ogg, "Sometimes, he made us miss. I thought sometimes our coaches did a good job of getting people in position to tackle. But, he makes you miss. He didn't go downfield on us all that much, but there were some missed tackles in the second half. No. 11 (Hansel) especially hurt us."
   The Warrior offense sputtered until finally getting on the board after a fumble by Ricker on the South Greene 27. Stephen Thompson ran a 7-yard play, before runs of 12 and 8 yards by Rollins with the last one a touchdown at 5:32 of the third quarter.
   Happy Valley looked to turn the tide a couple of minutes later, when Rollins reversed roles and intercepted off one of Hansel's passes. The excitement faltered two plays later with the Warriors' third untimely lost fumble of the night.
   Hansel took no chances on offense running the ball himself for gains of 18 and 14 yards, crossing the goal line on the latter run. Andy Ricker, Neal's younger brother, kicked an extra point and the final score was set at 27-6 with :35 left in the third quarter.
   The final twelve minute period was a mirror image of the game's opening quarter with neither team able to score. Happy Valley did make a 53-yard drive downfield, but a Rollins pass to Chris Campbell at the South Greene six fell one yard shy of the first down marker.
   Rollins led the HV offense with 56 rushing yards and 42 passing yards as an injured knee inhibited the play of Cody Cannon, the Warriors' other breakaway star at tailback. Cannon, who only had two carries in this game, will be expected to have a much larger role in the opening game of the upcoming TSSAA playoffs.
   Both coaches were optimistic about their respective team's chances in the postseason. Although things won't be made official until after tonight, Region 1-2A Champion South Greene will likely host Rockwood. "We like being able to host a playoff game, and to know if you lose, it will be on your home field," said Ricker. "If things go according to plan, we'll play Rockwood. I know they kicked West Greene around and beat Happy Valley. I think Happy Valley has a super team after they played us so hard.
   "They play winged-T (offense). We see that from the teams down there, but they're coming to us and we're going play hard. It's our time to win some of these playoff games and I think this team is capable of winning some playoff games."
   Third-seeded Happy Valley will probably be headed to Sweetwater. "We don't want to be in a down mode," Ogg remarked. "I thought since early in the season, we've been getting back to a level we want to be at. We've got to reverse from the way the second half went tonight, but we're going to go in there confident."