Warriors ready for Bulldogs

By Jeff Birchfield
Even if the march towards a home playoff berth and second place in the Watauga Conference wasn't on the line, this week's game with the Hampton Bulldogs would still be one of the most important of the season for the Happy Valley Warriors.
"It's a big game," said Warrior tackle Jordy Harrison. "It's such a big county rivalry and it always has been. It seems like something's on the line every time we meet.
"It's a big thing getting in there mixing it up with those guys. I'm friends with some of them, but that doesn't matter when you hit the field. You're just trying to tear into each other and see who can get the most points."
Happy Valley head coach Stan Ogg knows his team's 2-1, 6-1 record means little when playing against the Bulldogs. Hampton (1-1, 3-3) has beaten the Warriors the past three seasons.
"Thinking back, we lost a six-point game and a three-point game before they just outplayed us last year," said Happy Valley head coach Stan Ogg. "They took it to us and we couldn't do much about it. We didn't defend well enough and we have tried to address some of that."
The Warriors jumped out front 20-8 early in last season's game before a touchdown right before the half turned the tide in favor of Hampton.
With senior quarterback Mitchell Morton already tossing five touchdown passes this season and big fullback Justin Waycaster ranking third in the league in rushing, it's key for the Warrior defense to play their best game of the season if they want to end the current skid. Cody Walsh is another weapon they have to account for. He is a triple threat as tailback, receiver and as a kicker, having scored 18 points so far this year.
"We have to play good defense to be successful," preached Ogg. "We didn't do a good job of that last year. They have a quarterback who is a three-year starter. They will run the football effectively and they pass effectively too. You can't let them get outside you. They might run single routes passing or the old toss sweep rushing.
"They force you to defend the whole football field. They get those big old offensive linemen in the way and the backs hide behind them. You lose sight of those kids and try to run around a block, that's four yards. You miss a tackle and it's 15 yards."
Those big Hampton linemen Ogg refers to are Adam Potter, Eddie Lance, Brandon Bowling, Ian Miller and Seth Clawson. Countering on the Warrior front are Harrison, Josh Smith, Austin Shell, Daniel Dover and Cane Cannon.
Playing in a hostile environment, the Warriors know once they're in the red zone, the offense has to put points on the board.
"You have to score when you have opportunities," said Ogg, whose team put up 35 in a win last week over Cumberland Gap. "We have to move the chains. If we do that, our offense will take care of itself."
Leading the Warrior offense is the conference's leading rusher Tim Whaley, who has compiled 608 yards on 94 carries. Also a key will be the play of sophomore quarterback Todd Caldwell. Caldwell was efficient in last week's victory over the Panthers, connecting on a 63-yard touchdown strike with tight end Derrick Hamm for their longest offensive play.
Hampton and Happy Valley, no matter whether it's on the football field or on the basketball court, are usually teams that fight each other tooth and nail from the elementary ranks, through junior high up to the varsity level.
"It's been that way since I was playing quarterback in flag football," said Harrison. "I guess where we are neighbors in the same county and are always playing against each other makes it a big game."
Hampton runs much of its offense from a power-I formation, with some option and wing-T mixed in. Happy Valley has changed more to the I this season as well. The option, once their bread and butter set, is now used more sparingly in the gameplan. A measure of how the change is working comes this week against a tough Bulldog defense, which has allowed fewer points per game against common opponents than HV.
Still, this is above all a rivalry game, and the Warrior team has the chance to accomplish something no other great HV squad has been able to do. They could become the first team in school history to beat all three big rivals (Unicoi County, Elizabethton and Hampton) in the same year.
"Those are the three biggest games on our schedule," said Ogg. "We played pretty well against Unicoi County and we played well against Elizabethton. We will have to play pretty well against Hampton also, if we have a chance."
The prospect of doing something even the undefeated team of 1997 didn't do is something that motivates the players.
"If we do that, it would be a promising year," said Harrison. "We just have so much heart this year. It started in the summer in the weight room with coach Campbell. The games we've been focusing on are Hampton, Unicoi and Elizabethton.
"Those games are huge. I mean we do focus one week at a time, but these are the big games. We have to give it our all Friday night, because we know it's going to be a tough one."