Pittman trips Hampton

Photo by Rick Harris
Hampton defensive back Gene Sanchez makes a tackle on Pittman receiver Sean Toomey.

By Jamie Combs
When Hampton tried to move the football on the ground against Gatlinburg-Pittman, it was like the Bulldog backs were stuck in the middle of a crowded elevator. They had no room to run.
Their vaunted running attack held to 26 yards on 33 attempts, the Bulldogs lacked the offensive punch to get past the favored Highlanders, who took command of the Watauga Conference race by capturing a 25-14 victory on Friday night at J.C. Campbell Stadium.
"Gatlinburg-Pittman's a good ball club -- strong," said Hampton coach J.C. Campbell, seeing his team's three-game winning streak snapped. "We couldn't block them good enough. If you can't run it a little bit, you can't do much. You can't depend on long passes. You might get one off now and then, but you've got to block them some if you're going to beat anybody."
Solid defense, including two takeaways, kept the 'Dogs (1-1, 3-3) very much in the game through the first two quarters -- Pittman led just 7-0 at the half -- but the Highlanders (3-0, 4-2) were able to break Hampton's grip in the second half as tailback Josh Lott gained 110 of his 133 rushing yards on the night.
"Our defense has been as sound as it can be," said Pittman coach Benny Hammonds, his club now in sole possession of first place in the conference. "Our offense is kind of in a slump or a rut -- it's not producing like we're capable of. Our boys know it, too. We had a lot more offense in the preseason than we're showing now.
"We can do better, but there's no doubt we played a little better in the second half -- with a little more focus and taking care of the football. Hampton has a good team. I'm not taking away anything from them. They're pretty hard-nosed."
A couple of ill-fated punt attempts, which set up the first and last of three Highlander touchdowns, contributed to Hampton's downfall.
"Our kicking game went to pot," Campbell said. "We messed up when we didn't fake it -- they were rushing everybody. We should have done that early."
Pittman's first TD came on a Jordan Jones 6-yard run on the first play of the second quarter, and Jones stayed on the field to kick the extra point.
The Highlanders were down inside the Hampton 30 two other times in the first half, but a Mitchell Morton fumble recovery, and a Morton interception after Justin Waycaster made a defensive tip, extinguished those flames.
The Highlanders, though, would not be denied in the opening minutes of the second half. Going on offense first, Pittman generated an impressive 10-play, 68-yard drive that came to an end on a 15-yard TD run by Lott, who carried seven times for 50 yards during the march.
Jones hit his second PAT, extending the visiting team's lead to 14-0.
"They just took it and drove it down our throats that first possession there," Campbell said. "That took a little steam out of us."
Lott totaled 22 carries in the contest, with 17 coming in the second half, while big, bruising fullback Sean Rosenthal carried six times for 26 yards over the final two periods, finishing the night with 32 yards on seven attempts. Neither runner was easy to bring down.
"They're big and strong backs," said Hampton defensive end Donny Singleton, who amassed 11 tackles and a quarterback sack. "We were sort of surprised by them. We knew they were good, but we didn't know they would be that good."
A gift from the officials made the next Highlander score possible as a Morton quarterback pass to Eric Swain was dropped for an apparent incompletion, but was instead ruled a fumble that Pittman recovered. Swain responded with a few choice words for the men in stripes, resulting in his ejection, and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that moved the ball to the Bulldog 7.
Following two Highlander holding penalties, one of which negated a scoring run by quarterback Daniel Mitchell, Jones booted a 30-yard field goal.
Mitchell did collect a touchdown less than three minutes later, scoring on a nifty 10-yard run. He followed up with a two-point conversion to make the score 25-0.
Hampton's offense was able to produce a little highlight material in the final minutes, with Morton unleashing a 35-yard touchdown pass to Cody Walsh, then a 27-yard TD toss to Jacob Moss. Morton, 5-of-9 for 85 yards, showed nice touch on both throws, and Walsh and Moss outplayed the Pittman secondary to make the grabs.
"We threw it when we had the time," Campbell said. "They started sending nine people and left two (in the secondary), and we couldn't keep them blocked long enough. We weren't prepared enough for nine men coming or where they were coming from."
Morton and Zack Crabtree connected for a two-point conversion following Walsh's score.
Pittman, a first-year Watauga team, definitely put itself in the conference driver's seat with the win over Hampton. The Highlanders had already beaten Happy Valley in a crucial league tilt.
"It sure puts us in a better position than having losses right now," Hammonds said.
Regardless of the Highlanders' situation, Hammonds, as of late, isn't getting the type of well-oiled performance he wants from his team.
"We were playing better earlier in the year, and I don't like to see us go downhill," he said. "We've lost some concentration. I thought that Seymour loss (6-0 last week) took a little bit out of us. That's such a good county rivalry, but you've got to bounce back, forget it and go on."
The Highlanders received 6-of-10 passing for 65 yards from Mitchell, and three receptions for 46 yards from Sean Toomey. Also for Pittman, Brandon McCarter bagged 2.5 sacks.
With 11 stops to call his own, Waycaster shared top honors with Singleton in the Hampton tackling department. Eddie Lance reached double figures with 10 tackles, while Jonathan Potter had nine tackles, and Morton and Sean Moody eight apiece.
Singleton doesn't think that Friday night's loss will send the 'Dogs spiraling in the wrong direction.
"If we can go against Gatlinburg-Pittman like that, as strong as they are, I think we'll be all right," he said. "I think we're going on the right path."
Next on the Bulldog docket is homecoming. Hampton will host cross-county rival Happy Valley in a game that could be for homefield advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.