Battle for second
Through eight weeks of prep football, South Greene (2-1, 5-2) and Happy Valley (3-1, 5-3) have established themselves as two of the premier teams in the Watauga Conference.
These two will battle it out Friday night in a game that will determine home field advantage in the first round of the TSSAA playoffs.
"We certainly think home field is important," said Happy Valley head coach Stan Ogg about hosting the Rebels. "It's more fun to play at home than to play on the road against all the great teams from Region 2.
"There's a lot at stake for this game. It's what it ought to be, good high school football, a good conference game that should decide second place."
It's strength versus strength. South Greene leads the league in scoring offense at 30 points per game, while the Warrior defense has held opponents to a Region 1-2A low 13.5 points per contest.
"Their offense hasn't changed over the years," said Ogg. "You have to defend all three phases of the triple option. The problem is most of the time you are putting your corners on an island.
"They like to throw those quick passes. That goes back to the beginnings of option football. When you are doing it well, it takes eight people to defend the triple option."
Most bothersome to Ogg looking at the Rebels on film are the players who are capable of breaking big plays.
"They've got some good skill players, players they've had for three years," said Ogg. "They are fast, big and athletic. They have a quarterback (Bruce Wright) who has been there for three years and is a threat running or throwing.
"The biggest thing is that he has a way of getting the ball to the people who need it like the tailback and No. 2, the split end."
The No. 2 Ogg refers to is Tyler Sauceman, whom his own head coach Larry Ricker concedes is an All-State candidate at receiver.
A matchup to watch will be the 6-3 Sauceman going against the talented Warrior secondary led by Drew Davis, Greg Swafford and Brian Black.
"We've got a good quarterback," said Ricker. "We are a run-oriented team first, but we like to try the slant and get some nice pass plays. One major thing from last year's game was Bruce got a concussion, but Ryan Ward stepped in and did a good job."
Ward now is in the role of starting tailback for the Rebels. He's the second leading rusher in the conference with 601 yards. Most impressive is Ward's average of an incredible 9.1 yards per carry.
However, the overall ground game seems to favor HV with a one-two punch of Ryan Garland and Michael Hollifield. The two Warrior tailbacks have combined to rush for 931 yards. Add in fullback Will Lowe, who has another 335 yards and Happy Valley's runners can be hard to stop.
"Lowe played tough against Hampton," said Ricker, referring to a game which Lowe had 131 rushing yards. "He runs right at you and that worries us. We are kind of soft in the middle. Our young line has been limiting us a little bit."
South Greene also will be tough at the fullback position with the coach's son Andy Ricker running the dive. Ricker is also a leader on the Rebel defense from his end position.
Happy Valley has plans of dominating line play, with the foursome of Jordy Harrison, Cane Cannon, Michael Higgins and Daniel Guinn blocking up front.
Both teams gave league leader Gatlinburg-Pittman tough games. The Warriors fell 17-13 at Pittman, while the Rebs are coming off a 17-7 loss to the Highlanders at home.
Happy Valley enters the game with a big win over county rival Hampton. For the second week in a row, the Warrior offense directed by Todd Caldwell performed flawlessly.
Recent history would suggest the team that starts strong should be the favorite. Each of the last three games has been settled early on, with South Greene in 2001 and HV the last two seasons taking commanding leads in the first half.
"It's huge, whoever is out of the gate first," said Ricker.
"It's almost always a big thing when you are dealing with high school kids. When you hold the lead, you don't have to gamble and are able to stay with your gameplan.
"I have told the kids over the years this has been a terrific rivalry. These are normally good, hard-hitting games."
Also of note, it will be Homecoming on Warrior Hill Friday night. Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. with the crowning of the 2005 HV Homecoming Queen to take place at halftime.
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