'Dogs-Rebels crucial clash in Watauga

By Jamie Combs
SPORTS EDITOR
jcombs@starhq.com
Should Hampton fail to get a proper handle on South Greene's 8-man defensive front, trying to move the football on the ground could be like trying to light a fire with a book of wet matches.
"They put eight people way up in the box," said Bulldog coach J.C. Campbell. "It's going to be hard to run on them. You just can't depend on passing all the time, so we're going to have to block them some with eight in the box. That's all there is to it."
That battle, as well as others, will be fought on the South Greene gridiron this Friday night, with the Bulldogs and Rebels, two Watauga Conference teams vying for the playoffs, engaging in a regular-season finale.
Asked what it will take to get the job done against the Rebels from an overall standpoint, senior Eddie Lance, top ranked among Hampton's interior linemen with 54 tackles, said: "Work as a team. We need 11 people playing together."
It doesn't take long to figure out the playoff possibilities for the Rebels (2-3, 5-4), who absolutely must win this game to extend their season.
The situation is nearly as simple for the 'Dogs (3-2, 5-4). Beat South Greene and they're in the postseason. Lose to the Rebels and they will see their season come to a halt, unless West Greene pulls an upset of Cumberland Gap.
The 'Dogs can make the playoffs as a No. 3 or No. 4 seed, as can the Rebels.
According to Campbell, the difference between a pretty good year and a so-so year for his squad hinges on the outcome of the contest with the Rebels.
"It's not that much better, but if we were to beat South Greene, I kind of feel like we would have beaten every team we had a chance to," he said. "The first two games of the season we weren't ready to play -- we were unorganized -- and we were playing two real good football teams. To get beat like that (38-13 to Cloudland and 49-18 to Knox Catholic) could have taken the life out of (our players). It could have taken the sweetness out of anything that you do, but the kids battled back, hung in there and won the games they had an opportunity to."
A victory over the Rebels will give the 'Dogs their third straight winning season.
"It'll determine if we're 5-5 or 6-4," Lance said. "That's all coach has been preaching all week."
While South Greene has slipped from its conference championship heights of 2001, the Rebels remain a good football team that defends its home turf with great success.
South Greene, which last failed to make the playoffs in 1992, seems to be armed with no awe-inspiring strengths, but no major weaknesses.
"They're pretty solid," Campbell said. "They've still got the big linemen in there, the good linebackers like they always have. They've always played good defense and they still do -- they still hit you. They're not afraid to take a chance -- they're liable to onside kick it."
Offensively, the Rebels have a dangerous weapon in receiver Tyler Sauceman, who leads the Watauga in catches (36) and touchdown receptions (8), and ranks second in the league in receiving yards (447).
Quarterback Bruce Wright has passed for 503 yards and seven touchdowns this year while gaining 390 yards rushing and scoring seven TDs of his own. Running back Clayton Tweed (668 yards rushing) and runner-receiver Ryan Ward (424 yards from scrimmage) help fortify the Rebel assault.
"They like to throw to that big receiver (Sauceman)," Campbell said. "He catches the ball real well -- he's a tall boy. He catches the fade real well, and they still run the option pretty good."
Also a key guy on special teams, Ward returned a punt 41 yards for a score in South Greene's 21-6 victory over West Greene a week ago.
Hampton's Cody Walsh has returned a kickoff for a touchdown in each of the last two games, rumbling 96 yards to the end zone in last week's 29-13 Bulldog victory over Chuckey-Doak.
Following the blocks of Lance, Seth Clawson and the other Bulldog linemen, fullback Justin Waycaster rushed for 104 yards on 13 carries against the Black Knights, giving him 770 yards on the ground for the season.
Furthermore, quarterback Mitchell Morton has been near the top of his offensive game following Hampton's loss to Happy Valley three weeks ago.
Morton, Sean Moody and Donny Singleton led Hampton defensively vs. the Knights.
Losers in three of their last four games at South Greene, the 'Dogs will probably need to be at their best against the Rebels.
"It always seems to be a close game between us," Campbell said.
Lance said the 'Dogs have no desire to see their season end this Friday night.
"We'd love to go on to the playoffs, and go farther than the first round," he said, "but it's going to be tough."