Special feat for Warriors

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com
The first HV playoff team of 1977 couldn't do it. The great Dean Reynolds-coached teams of the mid-'80s and the undefeated 1997 Warrior team never had the chance to do it.
With a convincing 35-8 win at Hampton on Friday night, the 2003 version of the Happy Valley Warriors became the first team in school history to score wins over their big three rivals (Unicoi County, Elizabethton and now Hampton) in the same year.
"The key is we haven't been worrying about individual honors," said star linebacker Will Lowe, echoing sentiments expressed weeks earlier by Warrior head coach Stan Ogg. "This has been a team thing. Hampton is such a big rivalry. We know their players and it's usually such a tight game."
It was expected this game would fit that pattern. The Bulldogs were carrying a three-game winning streak into the series and were playing at home, where a large, supportive crowd always turns out.
The Bulldogs got the crowd they wanted, but not the results. Happy Valley scored early after a blocked punt by Drew Davis set up a touchdown run by Tim Whaley on the following play. The next offensive play for Hampton might have made it a different game, but a sure touchdown pass from quarterback Mitchell Morton was dropped.
After that Lowe and the Warrior defensive crew turned the tables on the game and ended the rivalry slide.
"It felt real good to win and end that streak," said Lowe. "Our defense played really well. We had a shutout for most of the game. Our defensive ends get after the ball. Coach (Greg) Hyder stays on us to keep the defense going."
It can not be overstated how much respect is carried into a Hampton contest. When interviewed before the game, Ogg made it a point to recall how the Warriors were whipped in the second half of last year's Hampton game and ultimately lost 34-20.
The Bulldogs were last season's Watauga Conference champions and their coach J.C. Campbell has over 100 more career wins than any other head coach in Carter County. To beat the Dog Pack in Hampton means you have to play at your very best.
For HV, it was another big night in the maturation process of quarterback Todd Caldwell. The sophomore grows leaps and bounds with every performance. Friday, he threw two touchdowns and ran for another.
"Coach (Andy) Curtis has been working with me so much," said Caldwell. "We came out and the receivers were running routes and getting open. I just threw it to them deep and they went out and caught them.
"I gain more confidence in them all the time. We improve as a whole every week. We just have to continue to keep improving."
While Caldwell was impressive in completing almost half his passes, he has become a valuable weapon running the ball. The quarterback keeper was a play that accounted for three Warrior first downs.
"The coaches weren't too comfortable with me in that option at the first of the season," admitted Caldwell. "Once I started, they worked with me. I got better on my reads and know who to read. It's where we've been working on it real hard."
Right before the end of the first half, Caldwell connected on a 17-yard td strike to Greg Swafford.
"We practice that pass play every day," said Swafford, who made three catches for 72 yards in the game. "Todd threw the ball and put it right on the money. All I had to do was go up and get it for him."
Often this season Swafford has been overshadowed by the outstanding play of teammate Davis. On this night, Swafford matched the exploits of Davis. Each player made a touchdown catch on offense and came up with an interception on defense.
"We were in nickel coverage and I saw the ball coming down," remarked Swafford about the pick. "I didn't want them to have a chance to get it. I went over there as fast as I could to get the ball."
That performance was typical of an intangible about this team. With fellow defensive backs Ryan Garland and Brandon Whitehead both missing the game due to injuries, those players did as noted tv chef Emeril suggests. They kicked it up a notch.
Two regular season games remain for this team including a road game next week at South Greene that concludes a very tough six-week stretch. A week's rest precludes a final regular season contest at Chuckey-Doak and a first round playoff game.
Whatever the outcome of those games, you still have to say this has been a special season for the 2003 Warriors.
For Hampton, their path is more interesting over the next few weeks. Games against Cumberland Gap and South Greene will determine what kind of season they have. One win will likely give the 'Dogs a playoff berth. Winning against both foes should lock them into a solid third place finish. Losing both contests would eliminate them from a postseason slot altogether.
We're asked to make picks every week here at the STAR, but here's one I will put forth early. Hampton will bounce back from this loss and play like the championship program they are. I see them taking both of the upcoming games to put themselves on solid playoff ground.