Bulldogs manhandle Cumberland Gap

By Jamie Combs
SPORTS EDITOR
jcombs@starhq.com
ARTHUR -- If the impact plays Hampton made on the football field Friday night had been items in a shopping cart, the Bulldogs could not have gone through the 10-items-or-less checkout line.
Making things happen on offense, defense and special teams, the 'Dogs were able to sniff out a 32-14 victory over the Cumberland Gap Panthers in a Watauga Conference tilt.
"We probably made fewer mistakes tonight, and we didn't throw away any scoring opportunities," said Hampton coach J.C. Campbell, whose team snapped a two-game losing streak. "I think we got after them pretty well and stayed after them pretty well."
A week after getting thumped by arch rival and conference foe Happy Valley, Hampton (2-2, 4-4) played like a team wanting to restore lost pride.
"I wouldn't say our pride is restored," said Hampton fullback/defensive back Justin Waycaster. "It's hard to restore something when you lose to a rival like that, but we played well -- we played really well. As a team, we came out and did what we are supposed to do."
Rushing 13 times for 84 yards and three touchdowns, and accumulating eight tackles, Waycaster had a major role in helping the 'Dogs knock off the Panthers (2-2, 5-3) in the first-ever meeting between the schools.
Although outgained 268-253 on offense, Hampton gave itself a shorter field to work with by winning the field-position battle. Furthermore, the 'Dogs held Cumberland Gap to 31 yards rushing (on 25 attempts), and never let the Panthers' highly-regarded passing game get fully revved up.
"This is the first time this bunch has not showed up this year," Coach DeLynn Cline said of his Panthers. "We were flat from the get-go. Hampton played hard and just took it to us."
Hampton first got on the board following a three-and-out possession by each team at the start of the contest. A pair of 15-yard Panther penalties and a 17-yard quarterback jaunt by Mitchell Morton triggered a six-play, 71-yard drive, which ended when Waycaster scored on a 12-yard run. The extra-point kick was blocked, leaving the 'Dogs with a 6-0 lead.
The 'Dogs marched 60 yards for a touchdown on their next possession, with a 24-yard pass from Morton to Dustin Crumley setting up a 4-yard TD run by Waycaster in the second quarter. Zack Crabtree then hauled in a conversion pass from Morton, making the score 14-0.
Led by the passing arm of quarterback Corey Russell, who finished the game 17-of-27 for 237 yards, Cumberland Gap retaliated by moving into Bulldog territory. However, Hampton linebacker Martin Winters answered with retaliation of his own, reaching up to intercept a Russell throw and returning the ball 38 yards to the Panther 28.
"I was just reading the quarterback's eyes," said Winters. "It took me a second to realize I had the ball. As soon as I got it, I went as fast as I could down the field."
Not a regular starter, Winters was given a start on Friday night. He made the most of his opportunity, chalking up a team-high 11 tackles to go with his pickoff.
"I did the best I could," Winters said.
The 'Dogs didn't need long to cash in on the Panther turnover as moments later, Morton passed to Eric Swain for a 17-yard TD strike that saw Swain spin off defenders to break the goal line. Hampton was up 20-0 at the half.
Refusing to loosen their grip on Cumberland Gap in the third quarter, the 'Dogs pushed their lead to 26-0 two plays after partially blocking a two-yard punt by the Panthers. Waycaster did the scoring honors, blasting off the right side on a 28-yard run.
The Panthers got their first points of the night with two seconds remaining in the third. Catching a short pass from Russell, Ryan Overton caused a missed tackle, then sprinted down the left sideline for a 51-yard touchdown. T.J Falce hit the extra point, putting the score at 26-7.
"They couldn't run it at all on us," Campbell said. "We let them catch some passes -- they didn't catch as many as I thought they would -- but they didn't get any long ones on us except the one where we missed the tackle."
Ten Panther receptions went for 11 or fewer yards.
If Overton's TD slightly opened the window for a potential Panther comeback, Hampton's Cody Walsh shut it right back. Trucking down the middle of the field, Walsh returned the ensuing kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown and 32-7 Hampton advantage.
With Hampton using its subs, Cumberland Gap tallied a consolation touchdown with 5:02 remaining in the contest as Russell found Eric Hatfield in the end zone on a 10-yard toss. Falce added another PAT to close out the scoring.
"I thought it would be a tougher game because we're not used to people throwing the ball on us a whole bunch, and they threw the ball a lot," Waycaster said. "This is the best pass coverage we've played all year."
Jacob Moss, Brandon Barnett, Waycaster, Morton and Crumley, who moved from his end position, did a good job patrolling the Hampton secondary, while linebacker Sean Moody and lineman Eddie Lance contributed nine tackles apiece -- Lance had a sack -- to the Bulldog cause.
The 'Dogs recorded five sacks in the contest, with lineman Johnny Price bagging two.
Offensively for Hampton, Adam Potter and Brandon Bowling excelled on the line despite the fact Cumberland Gap was using eight- and nine-man fronts. They paved the way to a 212-yard rushing effort (49 attempts) by the 'Dogs, and Morton totaled a combined 78 yards in passing (41) and rushing (37).
Campbell liked the way his team responded following last week's loss.
"I think they felt bad about the way they played last week, and I think they know how they played last week," he said. "I think they faced up to it and decided not to be that way, hopefully, ever again."
Winters believes that Hampton, which bolstered its chances for a playoff berth, is back on the right track.
"I feel we'll start doing better with this win," he said.
Caleb Medley had six receptions for 94 yards and Overton four receptions for 89 yards for the Panthers, who remain in the hunt for a postseason invitation. Cline thinks his team can benefit from a playoff appearance.
"We've got so many young players," Cline said. "That would be a building block for them. I think that's important for us."