Key league games for C-Gap, HV

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com
A crucial stretch of Watauga Conference games starts Friday night for Happy Valley, while opposing Cumberland Gap's football team could virtually assure itself a playoff bid with a win.
The Happy Valley Warriors are 5-1 overall, but 1-1 in league play with a loss to Gatlinburg-Pittman two weeks ago. They know their chances for postseason success, or postseason play period, start on Friday when they host the visiting Panthers.
"They are an impressive team," said HV coach Stan Ogg about the Panthers. "They have only one loss to Rutledge 30-20 in week zero and they've already beaten two 3-A schools. They've already beaten Chuckey-Doak and South Greene from our league. They're basically a single-A team that's moved up and has done very well."
Cumberland Gap is a new high school located in Arthur, Tenn., formed when Powell Valley consolidated with Forge Ridge. All but a couple of the players came from the Powell Valley program, as Forge Ridge had a very small enrollment and no football team.
The Panthers earned credibility early on by beating South Greene 16-13, a team that's traditionally in the top half of Region 1-2A. A win here would pretty much lock them in for the TSSAA playoffs.
"That was a big win," said CG coach DeLynn Cline about the South Greene game. "We had some players with very little varsity experience going into that game. We didn't play well on offense, but we fought on offense four quarters with a good team and the kids played extremely hard."
Seeing Happy Valley for the first time this past Friday in a 20-7 win over Class 4-A Johnson County made a big impression on the Panther coach.
"That was a great atmosphere with their homecoming and all," said Cline. "They've got a lot of skill with the quarterback (Todd Caldwell). The running back Tim Whaley's a player. It seemed like they kept running in players and defensively they got after it. They remind me a lot of Rutledge with how they play."
Warrior coach Ogg found little to complain about after reviewing the homecoming game tape.
"I thought our kids played awful hard against a team that's close to the top of the Mountain Lakes Conference," said Ogg. "We had one 10-play drive and another 15-play drive. That's taking care of the football and moving downfield, moving methodically. Offensively we made some improvements from the week before, and defensively we played real well."
One player who gets a lot of ink on the Cumberland Gap side is Corey Russell. The senior quarterback is a talented runner, plus he's the Watauga Conference passing leader.
"He's pretty impressive on film," said Ogg. "I had heard by word of mouth he was really good. He runs good and has quite a few carries. He's got a good arm, an accurate arm. He throws a nice spiral. I don't have a height and weight on him, but he's a dandy.
"They run that slip screen effectively. With Russell in there, they won't bore you at all on offense."
His own coach will admit stopping Russell is the key to slowing down Cumberland Gap's downfield progression.
"We run the option, but Corey allows us to use multiple sets," said Cline. "He does a good job, scrambling and making plays. I've got a feeling he's going to have to make a lot of those plays against their defense."
Cumberland Gap (2-0, 4-1) is a team divided much into seniors at skill positions and sophomores at most other places. Receivers Ryan Overton, the team's fastest player, and Caleb Medley are favorite targets of Russell, while Tyler Francisco is a tailback that's racked up close to 500 yards in four games.
To have success throwing, the Panthers will have to beat HV's secondary. Over the past couple of weeks, DB's Drew Davis, Brian Black and Brandon Whitehead have combined for four interceptions.
Looking at the other sideline, linebackers Trevor Hestor and Seth Clemens are the two players on the Panther defense who usually give opponents fits.
Happy Valley, which has outscored opposing teams by an average score of 28 to 9, has seen different people step up when needed, with a core of good players maintaining a high level.
Case in point, last Friday linemen Josh Smith and Jordy Harrison continued to be forces on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, Will Lowe, who has played outstanding defense this season as linebacker, picked up his offensive game by catching a couple of passes, including a 5-yard TD in the first quarter.
"We've had to have some players step up with some injuries we've suffered," said Ogg. "The seniors did a good job leading us, with the juniors and sophomores playing good as well. We have 49 players who compete as one team."
Cline admitted there is a little concern for his team coming into the game at an emotional peak, only eight days after scoring a big 28-8 win over cross-county rival Claiborne High.
"Yeah, you do worry a little about a letdown," said Cline. "It's tough emotionally being ready after last week. However, the players know Happy Valley and G-P are supposed to be the class of the region. They are a very talented team and we're looking forward to playing them."
Kickoff is set for 7:30 atop Warrior Hill, the last regular season home game of the season. Additionally, it will be Senior Night and all senior class football players and cheerleaders will be honored at the game.