G-Pittman heavy-duty challenge for 'Dogs

By Jamie Combs
Sports Editor
With two decisive league wins already under its belt, Gatlinburg-Pittman seems poised to rampage through its entire Watauga Conference schedule like Godzilla through the streets of downtown Tokyo.
The defending conference champion Hampton Bulldogs look to tame the Watauga's new football beast this Friday night at J.C. Campbell Stadium.
"It's a mountain to climb, and I don't see any level spots going up, either," Hampton coach J.C. Campbell said about the challenge his team is facing.
In the first meeting between the two schools since a 1990 playoff encounter, the Highlanders (2-0, 3-2) will take a giant step towards winning the conference title, or the 'Dogs (1-0, 3-2) will bolster their chances of capturing a second straight league crown.
An established East Tennessee powerhouse, Pittman dropped to the 2-A ranks this season after a lengthy run on the 3-A level. The Highlanders immediately assumed the role of conference favorite, and have gone about proving why, beating Chuckey-Doak 56-6 and downing Happy Valley 28-7 in league contests.
Highlanders coach Benny Hammonds, however, is far from taking his team's next Watauga opponent for granted.
"I'm sure Hampton will be the same well-coached, physical, get-after-you type of football team that J.C. Campbell always has," said Hammonds, now in his 32nd season at the head of the Pittman program. "They've got a good receiver in (Eric) Swain; their fullback is doing a good job in there, and their offensive line is quick and strong and physical.
"Hampton presents a great challenge for us."
Known for its size, power, ground game and no-nonsense style of play, Pittman features one of the top running backs in the league in Josh Lott, who has gained 438 yards on 86 carries and leads the Watauga in scoring with 44 points (7 touchdowns, 1 two-point conversion).
Lott runs behind a line that includes 360-pound Josh Cornett.
"The thing about Gatlinburg-Pittman is they like to line up and run over the top of you, and then they like to line up in a basic defense and stop you," Campbell said.
The Highlanders have still found the time to mix in a few more passes than usual this year, with quarterback Daniel Mitchell doing an effective job of finding his receivers, including Sean Toomey (7 catches, 151 yards) and Lugi Recarte (6-139). Mitchell has completed 20 of 40 attempts for 400 yards and three TDs.
"They're not as big and strong as they have been in some years, but it seems like they've got a little more quickness," Campbell said of the Highlanders.
"They've got a good quarterback who likes to run the quarterback sweep, and they'll put two receivers on the same side and stuff like that a little bit if they need to. But as far as a passing team, they just pound you and pound you, and then throw it over your head because you've got so many people up there trying to stop the run."
Defensively, Pittman is sparked by Sean Rosenthal at linebacker, Recarte at cornerback and Mitchell at safety.
While the Highlander defense turned in a rock solid performance during last week's 6-0 Pittman loss to Seymour, yielding 184 yards, the Highlander offense did the unthinkable, gaining just three yards (minus-20 rushing).
Hammonds was disappointed in his squad's line play, just as he was after the Highlanders dropped a season-opening decision to Knox Catholic.
"If we don't play better (on the line), Hampton will be able to control the ball and do what they want to do," said Hammonds. "That's a big key for us right now."
The Pittman coach is also concerned about the emotional state of his team following the loss to its Sevier County rival.
"That's a big loss for us," Hammonds said. "It's a county rivalry that means a lot to the school, the players, the community and everybody involved. I hope we can get back up and play football in the right frame of mind. This is a big, important regional game for us, and going all the way to Hampton -- that's a pretty good trip. I hope we'll be ready to play. Time will tell."
The 'Dogs head into the contest with a three-game winning streak, in which their defense allowed only two touchdowns.
Interior linemen Adam Potter, Eddie Lance and Brandon Bowling thwarted the run in exceptional fashion while ends Dustin Crumley and Donny Singleton provided a hearty pass rush in Hampton's 21-14 win at Unicoi County last week.
Offensively against the Blue Devils, fullback Justin Waycaster rolled up 165 yards on the ground -- his third straight 100-yard rushing game -- and now leads the Watauga in rushing with 511 yards on 73 carries.
The offensive line did an outstanding job in run and pass blocking, and Hampton totaled 110 passing yards on five Mitchell Morton-to-Swain completions.
Swain has seven receptions for 173 yards on the season.
Whether or not Hampton has what it takes to stick with the Highlanders, Campbell believes his club will embrace the Pittman challenge.
"I think we've improved tremendously as the year has gone along, and I think we'll play hard," he said. "We'll just have to wait and see if we're strong enough, physically, to play with them. There may not be anything we can do about it. We'll just have to wait and see."
* Friday night's game provides an opportunity to see two coaches with long and distinguished careers match wits. Hammonds, in his 33rd year as a coach (he coached Cocke County for one season), has 240 victories to his credit, while Campbell, in his 36th year leading Hampton (the only team he's ever coached), has racked up 227 wins.
"We've been around a long time," Hammonds said. "I think J.C. and I are similar in that we just enjoy what we're doing. I can't find anything else better to do than coach football, so I'm still with it. But you don't see that very often -- two coaches who stay at the same schools for that long facing each other."
* Hampton and Pittman have played one common opponent to this point in the season: Knox Catholic. The Bulldogs dropped a 31-point decision to the Fighting Irish (49-18), and the Highlanders fell to Catholic by 27 (27-0).
* Pittman leads the all-time series with Hampton 4-0. In addition to winning the 1990 playoff game (28-6), the Highlanders defeated the 'Dogs in 1953 (40-0), 1954 (35-0) and 1988 (34-6, also in playoffs).