Tough stretch for Warriors ends tonight

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com
After six tough opponents all in a row, many of the Happy Valley Warriors will be looking forward to next Friday night's open date.
But first they must take care of business tonight in a Watauga Conference road game at South Greene. The bright side is the Warriors have shown improvement every week since the beginning of the season.
"We were grading last week's film against Hampton and we did so many things better than we did the week before against Cumberland Gap," said Happy Valley coach Stan Ogg. "The coaches are always trying to improve things.
"You look back, especially since we lost to Gatlinburg, we seem to be taking it to another level."
While Happy Valley (3-1 in the conference, 7-1 overall) is on track to secure a home playoff game if it wins this week or the following game at Chuckey-Doak, much more is on the line for the Rebels.
South Greene (1-2, 4-3) needs to beat Happy Valley and Hampton if it wants to secure a playoff bid and a winning record on the season.
"Each game from here on out is huge," said Rebel head coach Larry Ricker. "We're fighting for survival. Hopefully, we have a chance to beat Happy Valley.
"They are a very aggressive, solid football team with a great running back. They don't have many weaknesses."
Those who enjoy good matchups will like seeing if young Warrior defensive stars Vince Hodge and Will Lowe can help shut down the SG running game led by Clayton Tweed and quarterback Bruce Wright.
Wright is a double threat, as he completed seven passes last week to receiver Tyler Sauceman in a 48-14 loss to Gatlinburg.
"Bruce is a junior that has turned into a good quarterback," said Ricker. "Sauceman is his favorite receiver. We would like to have another combo like we had a couple of years ago with Adam Hansel and Wesley Parkins.
"Tweed was our fullback, but we've moved him to tailback to give him a chance to get more blocks."
The Warriors may need to rely more on their own passing game this week. While tailback Tim Whaley continues to play terrific, racking up 709 yards and 11 touchdowns in six games, it's usually tough running against the Rebel defense.
"They are difficult to block because of their schemes," said Ogg about the Rebel front. "They don't want to let you outside of them. They box those defensive ends to where you can't get near the boundaries and they play the linebackers up at the line of scrimmage. You try to find any soft spot you can in their defense, but, their defense is very sound."
If the Warriors do go to the air, they have confidence in the abilities of quarterback Todd Caldwell. Over the past three games, Caldwell has made scoring tosses to four different receivers (Lowe, Derrick Hamm, Greg Swafford and Drew Davis).
"Our passing game from all three standpoints clicked last week," said Ogg as his team completed two touchdown passes in a 35-8 win over Hampton. "The protection was very good, the throws have improved and the catches were pretty good. All three things we did well the other night. We hit the big plays and that was good."
The Rebels have some good players ready to slow down the offensive onslaught. Down tackle J.R. Sherill is considered the leader of the Rebel defense. Ends Andy Ricker and Shane Roth, plus inside linebacker Chris Shaltto give South Greene a solid core of good defensive players.
Judging by performances against common opponents, the Warriors would have to be favored. Both teams lost to league leader Gatlinburg, but the Rebs came up a fumble short against a Cumberland Gap team that HV beat by 20 points.
Still, this game is at South Greene, where the Warriors were whipped 27-6 their last visit in 2001.
"It is a tough place to go," said Ogg. "There are places you go where there might be a bad field or a really hard field. The field is fine there, but the wind can really blow sideways and it's cold. They also have a hostile environment. They take the homefield advantage very seriously. You have to raise your game when you make that trip."