Warriors fall to G-Pittman

By Wes Holtsclaw

   GATLINBURG-The Highlanders ruled amidst the Mountain Thicket once again.
   Before their large homecoming crowd on Friday night in the Smokey Mountains, future Watauga Conference rival Gatlinburg-Pittman Highlanders prevailed over the Happy Valley Warriors in a 35-14 contest at Hammonds Field.
   Pittman, the top squad in Region 1-3A, was simply too overwhelming for Happy Valley as size and strength told the tale. Backed by a 23 for 172 rushing performance from Ben Hess (5-11, 220), the Highlanders ground the trenches consistently all night long.
   Said Warrior coach Stan Ogg: "(Hess) is an outstanding player, and they were pretty good up front. They are one of the best teams we'll see."
   However, the Happy Valley Warriors stood their ground with some good play from its secondary units, led by James Matherly's three picks.
   "We held them in check, but we were just a touchdown shy of getting in," Ogg said. "We didn't tackle well in the first half, but they came out and did a better job. We fought back and had some good stops with interceptions."
   Hess was also on the receiving end of a big score for Pittman in the contest that proved to turn the tide of the contest in the second quarter.
   "I was just feeling it out there tonight," said Hess. "The line gave me everything and I just took it. This game was a big boost to us, and I hope it revives our momentum."
   Highlander coach Benny Hammonds was pleased with his team's effort.
   "They've got some tough hitters, and played well enough to win," said Hammonds. "We were sloppy on offense with the turnovers, but they attacked us hard from the beginning of the game. They are a team of the future with their young squad."
   The Warriors took the opening shot in the contest after a series of setbacks against Pittman. Tim Whaley took a punt and sprinted 60 yards with it to take an opening score for the Warriors, with a Casey Shatley kick making it 7-0.
   Pittman responded on the next drive with some nice runs from Hess and Josh Lott to set up a quick 5-yard scoring plow from Hess. A Ben Jones PAT tied the contest at seven all.
   Happy Valley responded defensively with the first of three interceptions from Matherly to get back into the swing of things.
   "I was just out there looking for the stunt to try to help us in the game," said Matherly. "I was in the right time at the right spots. We played well, but we've got some things to get better on."
   The Highlanders followed a set of strong defense with a quick 32-yard touchdown pass from Toby Kirkland to Hess, with a PAT giving Gatlinburg-Pittman the 14-7 momentum.
   The Warriors had a hard time getting their running game established in the first half, which forced them to try to air the ball out with freshman quarterback Todd Caldwell.
   Pittman took advantage of it with another strong defensive hold to set up a Chuck Edwards 10-yard touchdown to pull a 21-7 tide over onto the Warriors.
   On the next offensive possession, Warrior Tim Whaley took a hard hit, giving him some deep bruises and back spasms to keep him out of the game.
   After Danielle Booth was crowned homecoming queen, the Warriors were ready to score again, and on the third play of the second half took off when Cody Cannon rumbled 71 yards to pull Happy Valley within one score.
   "We had a bad taste in our mouth after last week and wanted another chance to redeem ourselves," said Cannon. "They are a physical team. I thought we'd have a shot, but we didn't pull through."
   The Highlanders scored twice in the second half with one-yard and nine-yard scores from Lott to take the win.
   Said Cannon: "I'm proud of the way we played, we've just got to finish our season and go do our thing."
   Pittman will close the season with some of its biggest 3-A rivals before making the jump next season. Coach Hammonds believes it will be a fun challenge.
   "We will lose a lot of players after this year, and we are losing a lot of students," said Hammonds. "We are limited in practice, but I look forward to a new challenge. I've been coaching for 31 years and seen a lot of football with these teams, so it will be interesting."
   It's back to work for Coach Ogg and the Warriors this week, as they prepare for North Greene and try to heal some wounds.
   "We've got to get ready," he said. "I don't know how bad some of these guys are hurt, losing Tim hurt us. We don't know what we'll have to do, but we'll be out there."