'Dogs set to reel in WC title

By Jamie Combs
SPORTS EDITOR
jcombs@starhq.com

   Hampton is the kind of team that can cover a 120-yard grass-and-dirt canvas with the charisma of a Norman Rockwell painting while swiping its opponents with a tar brush.
   Looking to put the final touches on a Watauga Conference championship campaign, the Bulldogs take on the Chuckey-Doak Black Knights in a season-ending contest this Friday night in Afton.
   In a game between teams on opposite ends of the spectrum -- Hampton is 3-0, 7-2 while Chuckey-Doak is 0-3, 1-8 -- the Bulldogs will try to avoid a letdown after a hard-fought 30-20 loss to Cloudland.
   "Sometimes they'll stray on you mentally in spite of everything you do," said Bulldog head coach J.C. Campbell. "Hopefully they realize they're not good enough to go through the motions and beat people -- we have to play. We've stressed that and will continue to stress that.
   "I think we'll be ready."
   Already guaranteed the No. 1 playoff seed from Region 1-2A, as well as a tie for the conference title, Hampton will win the league outright by defeating the Black Knights.
   "We're going to have to overlook who's beat them and who we've beat," said Hampton junior Justin Waycaster, who's made seven tackles in three of his last four games. "We're going to have to play well."
   Hampton does draw an opponent that is basking in the glow of its first victory of the year as the Black Knights last week registered a 22-8 come-from-behind victory at Unaka.
   Coach Ben Murphy's squad received a stellar showing from tailback/linebacker Justin Hill, who scored three touchdowns, including the winning score on a 56-yard fumble return. Hill grabbed an interception to set up his final TD.
   A.J. Pricenor has turned in a productive year for the Knights, leading the team in rushing (428 yards), scoring (34 points), receiving (16 receptions), receiving yards (230) and interceptions (3).
   "They seem to have improved as the season has gone on," Campbell said. "Maybe they got some players back that were injured or something like that, but they seem to be playing a little better."
   Three Hampton players have individual marks they are attempting to reach, starting with tailback Michael Peterson. Working to finish the season with 1,000 yards on the ground, Peterson will also take a crack at the conference rushing title as he and Happy Valley's Tim Whaley are tied atop the Watauga leaders with 920 yards.
   Quarterback Mitchell Morton (72 points) will become the Watauga's scoring champ if he manages to hold off Whaley (66 points), and Eric Swain (310 yards) has a chance to catch West Greene's Michael Franklin (344) for most yards receiving in the conference.
   The 'Dogs enter this finale ranked No. 1 in the Watauga in scoring offense, total team offense, total team defense, rushing offense, rushing defense and passing defense.
   Asked how Hampton can fine-tune its performance before delving into the postseason, Waycaster replied: "We missed a lot of tackles, so we need to work on that a little bit."
   While several Bulldog players were openly disappointed they couldn't quite pull off a week-nine upset of the highly-touted and undefeated Highlanders, Hampton can still be encouraged by the fact it pushed Cloudland to the limit.
   Prior to last week, Hampton had lost by 22 or more points to the 'Landers seven consecutive times.
   "The feedback I've gotten so far is that 'now we know we can play, and we're going to,'" Campbell said. "Not all of them have said that, but without asking, that's been the response from sort of the leaders on the team."
   Said Waycaster: "We're getting better as the season goes along, it looks like. Compared to the first time we played Cloudland (this season), we're improving."
   Campbell entertained the thought that Hampton might be hitting its peak at just the right time.
   "That's possible," he said. "We have lost a lot of our second-line people to injury and that set us back some. We changed our personnel on defense, which was a big part of things the other night, and Mitchell played well. Mitchell had been down a couple of games, and he played what might have been his best game, overall."
   Morton passed for 126 yards, ran for 48 and amassed nine tackles versus Cloudland, with Corey McKinney catching six balls for 68 yards and making 12 defensive hits.
   NOTES: Starting defensive back/receiver Kevin Harrison, after spraining a knee against the 'Landers, will be held out this week .... Kickoff is set for 7:30.