Warriors deny Bulldogs
By Jamie Combs
Junior fullback Will Lowe was to his team's running attack on Friday night what a four-cylinder engine is to a gallon of gasoline: highly efficient.
Averaging 11.3 yards per attempt, Lowe carried the ball 11 times for 124 yards and a pair of touchdowns while guiding Happy Valley to an important 27-12 Watauga Conference victory over Hampton atop Warrior Hill.
"It's a big rivalry," said Lowe following his first career 100-yard game on the ground. "Ever since elementary school, Hampton and us have been neck and neck. It's a big win to get out here and have a good game against Hampton."
Taking one step closer to homefield advantage in the first round of the playoffs, the Warriors (3-1, 5-3) racked up 399 yards of offense (312 rushing), and withstood a spirited second-half Hampton effort after starting the third quarter with a 20-0 lead.
One highly efficient rusher wasn't enough for the Warriors, who got exactly 100 yards on 12 carries (8.3 per-carry avg.) from tailback Ryan Garland.
Warrior quarterback Todd Caldwell ran for a score and passed to Garland for another, and linebacker Logan Birchfield piled up 16 tackles for the HV defense, which dominated in the opening half.
"We needed that," said Happy Valley coach Stan Ogg, referring to the victory. "We need to (gain momentum) this time of year. We're down to two games -- we have the off-week (in week 9) -- and a lot of people have three. If you get a chance to go to the playoffs, you want to position yourself as well as you can. We're going to try to get that homefield advantage. It's a lot easier playing at home than two hours away."
The Bulldogs (1-2, 2-5) saw Happy Valley break the ice on its second possession, as the Warriors used a 31-yard Garland scamper to set up a 5-yard TD run from Caldwell.
A 48-yard run by Lowe, who showed good speed down the sideline after cutting to his right, accounted for the next Warrior TD. Casey Shatley then banged through his second extra point of the game, making the score 14-0.
Less than a minute before intermission, the Warriors struck again -- this time on a fourth-and-goal Caldwell to Garland pass from the 11. A juggling 31-yard grab by receiver Greg Swafford served as the key play in a 13-play, 69-yard drive.
"We played really good defense in the first half, and we did what we needed to do on offense," Ogg said. "That touchdown right before the half -- that's great offensive execution. I was proud of the kids getting that in there on a fourth-and-goal from the 11."
With only two first downs and 19 yards of offense at the half, Hampton was apparently on its way to a very one-sided loss. The 'Dogs, however, were a changed team in quarters three and four, picking up 10 first downs, gaining 278 offensive yards and creating three turnovers.
"Happy Valley's got a good ballclub," said Bulldog coach J.C. Campbell. "They've got a lot of good athletes, they're quick and they can do a lot with them. But we came back and played."
An interception by linebacker Jonathan Potter inside his own 40 gave Hampton a breath of life early in the third, and the 'Dogs parlayed that turnover into an 11-play, 54-yard ticket to paydirt. A 14-yard TD pass from quarterback Zack Crabtree to tight end Lucas Roark on fourth-and-goal from the 12 trimmed the Warrior advantage to 20-6.
Shortly thereafter, a fumble recovery by defensive back Adam Townsend supplied Hampton the ball at its 37, and the 'Dogs responded by driving to the Warrior 23, where they faced a big fourth-and-2 situation. Potter, from his fullback position, tried to move the chains with an inside run, but a host of Warriors, led by Birchfield and lineman Jordy Harrison, stopped him for no gain.
Eight plays later, Happy Valley stood at the Hampton 20, and Lowe, with his final run of the contest, covered the remaining distance to the end zone. He got there by running through a pair of defenders.
"They came back the second half real intense, and we were kind of down because they had scored on us," Lowe said. "I just got the ball and I was running and saw two people coming, and I just put my head down and run off of them and got in the end zone."
Another Shatley PAT put the Warriors on top 27-6 at the 9:31 mark of the fourth quarter.
Hampton wasn't deflated, though, as it answered with a touchdown one minute and 16 seconds later. Tailback Cody Walsh, on a long throw, connected with receiver Chris Morgan for a 56-yard gain, then Potter plowed across the goal line on a 6-yard run the very next play.
"I guess we had several chances to put the game away, but we didn't quite get there," Ogg said. "But that was probably good for us. We probably needed that. We got up against the wall a little bit there, being in an alley fight the whole second half."
Seconds after the Potter TD, defensive back Gene Sanchez recovered another Warrior fumble, near midfield, but the 'Dogs gave the ball back with a fumble of their own at the Happy Valley 40. Lowe, playing linebacker, came up with the recovery.
Hampton still had a small ray of hope when Crabtree went deep to Walsh for a 45-yard play to the Warrior 36 in the fading moments, but the team was stopped on downs inside the 20.
"It surprised me beating them deep like we did because they can outrun us," Campbell said. "I guess we caught them by surprise. I'm proud of my players for coming back the last half and playing hard -- not laying down. I told them I was proud of them for showing me they can play a little. Now I'm expecting it."
Senior lineman Seth Clawson, who served as a boon to Hampton's second-half showing, commented on how his team played over the final two quarters.
"It made me feel good about my teammates," he said. "They did well the second half, and I'm proud of them. I hope this carries over to next week."
Dropping their second straight game in the conference (third overall), the 'Dogs, in the pursuit of a playoff berth, can barely afford a loss in their final three contests -- all league affairs. Asked what is Hampton's goal for the rest of the season, Clawson replied: "Just play hard."
The Warriors received 127 yards of offense from Caldwell, who threw for 87 and ran for 40. Defensively, linemen Daniel Guinn (11 tackles), Cane Cannon (7 tackles, 1 sack) and Harrison (7 tackles), as well as Swafford (1 INT) in the secondary, complemented Birchfield's performance.
It wasn't a typical output for the Hampton offense, which gained more yards passing (163) than rushing (134). Crabtree completed 7 of 13 throws for 107 yards, with receiver Sanchez grabbing a total of four balls for 50 yards.
Adding 40 rushing yards to his completion and catch, Walsh finished with 141 all-purpose yards.
Linebacker Martin Winters tallied a Hampton-best 11 tackles, followed by defensive back Cody Farmer with nine. Potter and lineman Johnny Price each had eight hits, with defensive end D.J. Oliver and Sanchez chipping in seven stops apiece.