Warriors, Bulldogs brace for Watauga meeting
By Jamie Combs
From the perspective of Hampton coach J.C. Campbell, it's a cut-and-dry situation when his football team visits cross-county rival Happy Valley for Watauga Conference action on Friday night. The Bulldogs can either improve on their most recent showing, or they can stand out like unsightly weeds through the cracks of an old sidewalk.
"If we play like we played last week, it won't be pretty," said Campbell, his 'Dogs (1-1, 2-4) coming off a 26-0 road loss to league frontrunner Gatlinburg-Pittman. "They'll have their way with us."
Managing a mere 99 yards of offense, making too many penalties (eight for 70 yards) and turning in a checkered defensive performance in its battle with Pittman, Hampton suffered its second consecutive defeat.
Things were somewhat better for Hampton the game before -- vs. Unicoi County -- but a 14-12 loss had a demoralizing effect. Still, Campbell holds out hope that his 'Dogs will cure their ills.
"I've seen sicker cats get well, so you never know," he said. "You've always got that glimmer of hope."
Standing in Hampton's way on Friday night is a talented Happy Valley squad (2-1, 4-3), which racked up an impressive 41-0 Watauga win at Cumberland Gap during last week's action.
The victory over C-Gap did much for the morale of the Warriors, who halted a tough three-game losing streak that started in 23-0 fashion at Elizabethton, and followed with tight-fisted scores at Pittman (17-13) and Johnson County (21-14).
"We were 3-0, and then Elizabethton was just a bitter pill to swallow because we just didn't play very well and they totally outplayed us," said Warrior coach Stan Ogg. "We made mistakes that cost us, then we played two games in a row, against very physical teams, that we felt we had great chances to win there in the fourth quarter.
"So we needed that (win). We did some things right. We didn't do everything right, but we played hard."
After going through a couple of rough patches during the Warrior skid, quarterback Todd Caldwell enjoyed a feel-good performance last week, completing 10 of 17 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown. Tailback Michael Hollifield was also highly productive, picking up 149 yards and three TDs on 17 rushes.
For the season, Caldwell has thrown for 682 yards (four 100-yard games) and four TDs, using Greg Swafford (16 receptions, 214 yards), Chris Rutledge (10-105, 1 TD) and Drew Davis (9-187, 3 TDs) as his primary targets.
Caldwell hit Swafford and Davis with TD throws in last season's 35-8 Happy Valley rout of Hampton, and Davis and Swafford, as well as another current Warrior, Bryan Black, picked off passes. Davis added a blocked punt.
Happy Valley has gotten a combined 800 yards of rushing from tailback Ryan Garland (440) and Hollifield (360), and plenty of power running from fullback Will Lowe (219). Jordy Harrison and Cane Cannon anchor the Warrior offensive line, while Lowe, at linebacker, and Davis, with four interceptions in the secondary, pace the team's defense.
"They look good everywhere," Campbell said of the Warriors. "If they go through our defense like Gatlinburg did, they'll score -- they're too quick. They've got the big-play boys. They've got three or four who can score from about anywhere on the field, and they've got that old big one (Lowe) they can punish you with."
Garland, Hollifield and Davis are the most likely to make the long gains for the Warriors.
Fullback Jonathan Potter tops Hampton in rushing with 300 yards, and he's followed closely by tailback Cody Walsh with 288. Curtis McKeehan (164) and Cody Farmer (157), both tailbacks, add to the 'Dogs' usually solid running attack.
"I don't know how the course of the thing is going to go, but it's the same thing every week -- we've got to give good effort," Ogg said. "And we will. Our kids have given tremendous effort.
"And you've got to tackle. You go back to some past games with Hampton, and it's always blocking and tackling. You don't tackle them, the next thing you know they've got a back with 180 yards and two touchdowns, and you're thinking, 'Where did we go wrong?'"
Hampton's offensive line, where tackle Donny Davis has shown a good deal of improvement, will probably need to turn things up a notch for the 'Dogs to have a good shot at defeating the Warriors.
Quarterback Zack Crabtree has thrown for 221 yards and four scores for Hampton, while Gene Sanchez, with five catches for 54 yards and a TD, leads the 'Dogs in receiving.
Linebackers Martin Winters and Potter, defensive back Brandon Barnett (2 interceptions) and defensive end Lucas Roark anchor Hampton on the non-glory side of the ball.
The 'Dogs, according to Campbell, have reached a crossroads in their season.
"If we're going to make a mark, we've got to start," he said. "The season's going to be over with. We'll be saying, 'What if,' and 'I wished.'"
Ogg said the Warriors don't expect a second-rate effort from the 'Dogs.
"We fully expect them to bring their best effort when they get here," he said. "We don't expect anything less, just simply because it's a conference game. They're right in the midst of fighting for playoff positions. They've only got one conference loss, so they're right in the same boat as we are in that respect."