Playoff berth at stake for Bulldogs
By Jamie Combs
A berth in the Class 2A state playoffs is a beacon to the Hampton football team the way a lighthouse tower is a beacon to a passing ship on a crystal-clear night.
If they defeat Chuckey-Doak in tonight's Watauga Conference action at The Black Hole in Afton, the 'Dogs will be included in postseason play.
"We've got a few little things we need to work out defensively, but if we get the ball up the field like we did last week, we'll be all right," said Hampton senior Gene Sanchez. "We want to win and get in the playoffs -- that's important to us. We've got our minds set on winning."
With a victory over the Black Knights (1-3, 3-5), the 'Dogs (2-2, 3-5) will have the league's fourth and final playoff berth in hand, and can then look to their regular season ending battle versus South Greene for the No. 3 seed.
Even though Hampton has dominated its series with Chuckey-Doak, Bulldog coach J.C. Campbell said his team can't be looking past the Knights, who also remain in the playoff picture.
"We can't take anybody for granted," Campbell said. "We're not good enough to take anybody for granted. We've got to be nose to the grindstone."
Hampton definitely goes into tonight's contest with good offensive momentum, as it manufactured 224 yards rushing and 144 through the air in its 34-29 Watauga win over Cumberland Gap last week.
Sanchez was highly impressive in the game, recording just the second 100-yard receiving effort by a Hampton player in the last eight years. The wideout finished with 119 yards on six receptions, scoring on a 46-yard toss from Cody Walsh.
Asked if he had ever envisioned such a strong performance, Sanchez said: "I never did. I really didn't."
Topping the 'Dogs in receptions (15) and receiving yards (223) this season, Sanchez has made 10 catches for 169 yards in the last two contests.
"J.C.'s got more faith in me," said Sanchez, explaining his sharp rise in production. "He sees that I can catch the ball, and he keeps throwing it to me. He gave me a couple of compliments. I was excited -- I was happy."
Said Campbell: "After he catches one or two, he sees that he can. I think that was the big thing."
Walsh ran for 122 yards (19 carries) and a touchdown, and passed for 75 -- hitting Sanchez on both of his throws -- in a standout showing from his tailback position against the Panthers, with fullback Jonathan Potter adding 98 yards and a TD on 13 carries. The two Hampton backs have rushed for exactly 450 yards apiece this year, sharing the team lead.
Tight end Lucas Roark has four catches for 45 yards on the season, but he's got a Hampton-high three scoring grabs, with one coming versus Cumberland Gap. Roark, however, isn't likely to be doing any receiving this week, because he's been named the starting quarterback in place of the injured Zack Crabtree (knee).
Crabtree (4-of-8, 37 yards; TD to Roark) went down just before halftime last week, and Roark came in and did a real decent job at QB, going 3-of-7 passing for 32 yards and rushing for a short TD.
"I've got faith in him," Sanchez said of Roark.
Injuries also figure to keep starting defensive back/tight end Brandon Barnett (knee) and shifty reserve tailback Curtis McKeehan (shoulder) from playing for the 'Dogs tonight. Starting defensive end D.J. Oliver was lost to a knee injury two weeks ago, so Hampton is a little low on manpower.
"I hope we've got enough players to beat Chuckey-Doak," Campbell said.
Chuckey-Doak, having won its last two games -- the Knights downed West Greene, then Cosby -- sports a fine one-two punch on the ground in quarterback Nick Havers (94-527) and running back David Taylor (104-517).
Chris O'Neal, with 16 receptions for 205 yards and five scores, is Chuckey-Doak's go-to receiver. The Knights' Josh Wykle is the Watauga co-leader in interceptions with five.
"Looking at them on film, they've got a good looking team," Campbell said of the Knights. "That quarterback is 6-2 and runs like a deer. They always have good looking players."
Linebackers Martin Winters (76 tackles, one INT, one sack) and Potter (56 tackles, two INTs, two fumble recoveries), and the secondary's Adam Townsend (61 tackles, two fumble recoveries, one sack) will take the Chuckey-Doak field as Hampton's defensive leaders.