Jr. Warriors last team standing in Little Watauga

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR CORRESPONDENT

   It was convincing.
   Happy Valley repeated as champions of the Little Watauga Conference for the second consecutive year by defeating Johnson County in a 24-8 final on Thursday night atop Warrior Hill.
   "We've won three of these in the past five years, but I think this one might be the most special," said Happy Valley head coach Alex Payne. "I don't think anyone expected it out of these kids."
   Happy Valley dominated the contest by applying defensive pressure, which held the Longhorns to zero total yards on offense until the last series, and three first downs for the entire game.
   "The defense kept us in the ball game, and Johnson County had a good gameplan in taking away what we wanted to do the first quarter" Payne said. "But the defense held and that's why they say it wins championships."
   The Longhorns went three-and-out on their first possession, which forced them to punt the ball away.
   The Warriors were driving with their first series, but a miss communication in the back-field led to a 14-yard loss, with Josh Payne making a sack on Jordan Lewis.
   Johnson County was putting together a drive of its own, but on third-and-8 Dallas Vance came through the line to make a sack on Matt Story.
   "I'd like to thank these guys on the staff," Payne said. "Wandell made some great calls tonight, and Jason deserves credit for what that defense does, and if we didn't have a solid coaching staff then we wouldn't have a solid team."
   The Warrior defense rose to the occasion again when Tony Carr put a hit on Story, causing a fumble that Paul Clark recovered.
   "I couldn't be more proud of this team," Clark said. "They played their hearts out, and I've been going to Happy Valley all my life and wouldn't play for any other team."
   It was a missed opportunity for Happy Valley when Caleb Johnson dropped a pass from Lewis in the end zone, after Francisco Borquez had reeled off a 21-yard run.
   Two big defensive stands came from the Warriors with the half winding down, with Shane Bell dropping Jesse Atwood for a five-yard loss. That play was followed with a backwards pass from Story to Robbie Moody, which resulted in Daniel Shankle tackling Moody for a safety.
   "I was scared to blitz there," Payne said. "I couldn't afford to have them break one, and fortunately we were in a base defense and got a man up there and it worked out well."
   The Warriors were left with 1:01 left on the clock, as they tried to build to their slim margin.
   After missing on the execution off the pass on the series before, Happy Valley elected to go back to Johnson, which paid off for them this time around.
   A 36 yard strike from Lewis to Johnson down the right side set up a 12-yard scoring pass across the middle, with the same two guys hooking up once again.
   "Caleb Johnson is a seventh-grader from Central, and he's improved tremendously the last two weeks," said Payne.
   This gave the Warriors an 8-0 lead heading into halftime, and they had shut down Zack Roark and Andrew Sexton in the backfield.
   The Longhorns caught Happy Valley off guard to start the second-half when they recovered an onsides kick at the Warrior 45-yard line.
   Johnson County was stopped on a third-and-11 after Chuck Rollins sniffed out a reverse by Atwood to throw him for a four-yard loss.
   The Longhorns nearly escaped when Roark launched a pass on the fake punt, which bounced off the fingertips of Moody.
   From there Happy Valley drove it down the field. After Borquez and Logan Birchfield made a couple of tough back-to-back runs, the Warriors got inside the 10 but came up shy.
   "We had some great blocking, and Francisco and I couldn't have done it without that," Birchfield said. "But the team played very solid defense and did really well."
   Johnson County was held after Carr and Rollins clobbered Story on a sack, which forced the Longhorns to punt from their own 8.
   Two plays later, Birchfield took the ball from 23 yards out and bounced off of tacklers to find his way to the end zone with 6:27 left in the game.
   "Everybody doubted us at the first, and I thought we were going to have a good season," Birchfield said. "But I didn't know how we were going to be until we faced Johnson County, which was supposed to have the top players, in the first game."
   The Longhorns were stuffed on the next series, when Adam Black and Rollins combined for a sack on Story.
   Roark attempted to convert on another fake punt and pass, but was well short of the intended receiver Moody.
   The Warriors last touchdown came off a quarterback sneak from Shankle, which netted 19 yards.
   Johnson County tried to go to the air on the next possession, and Story was almost picked off by Brandon Whitehead on a pass attempt to Moody.
   The Longhorns tried the same play again, but Whitehead was able to come up with the interception, running for 31 yards on the return.
   Points were finally scored for Johnson County with seconds ticking away, as Story connected with Moody covering a total of 77 yards on two passes.
   Happy Valley finishes the year as both regular and post-season champions, along with Borquez being named as the league's MVP.
   "I've played football since the second grade and this is the best team I've ever been on," said Borquez. "I feel like our whole team played better, and our line did an awesome job, fullbacks blocked well, receivers caught some passes, and it all came together in the end."