Bulldogs arm for Wartburg

By Jamie Combs
SPORTS EDITOR

   The way Hampton coach J.C. Campbell describes it, the scouting report on Wartburg Central is filled with more grim details than a Stephen King novel. In other words, Wartburg is a scary opponent.
   "We'll have to play awfully well to beat them," Campbell said. "They're a big, strong team. 7-3 (Wartburg's record) in that league -- that ain't bad.
   "If we can't move the football some, they'll bury us."
   Canine pride and so much more will be on the line Friday night at Campbell Stadium, where Hampton (6-4) and Wartburg, both nicknamed the Bulldogs, clash in a Class 2-A first-round playoff game. Kickoff is set for 7.
   Entering the playoffs for just the third time in school history -- first time since 1995 -- Wartburg is a drastically different team than it was a year ago, when coach Larry Davis' squad finished a woeful 1-9.
   "We've played hard and everybody was tired of losing," said Davis, now in his seventh season at the Wartburg helm. "Some of the older guys grew up and matured into good leaders. A lot of things came together, but the difference is the players. They wanted to do something and they did."
   Considering that Hampton is making its first postseason appearance since 1998, both clubs ought to be hungry for a playoff victory.
   "It's new to our players and new to theirs," Campbell said of the playoffs. "There should be that hunger factor. That should play in."
   Wartburg, whose lone playoff win came at the expense of Hampton in 1980 (18-6), can appreciate its current situation.
   "(Playoff berths) are hard to come by down here," Davis said. "We feel very fortunate and happy to be here. Anytime we happen to have a good year, if we do anything in the playoffs it's dessert -- icing on the cake. We're realistic about our situation."
   Before the final game of the regular season Wartburg was perched on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, but a dramatic 21-15 triumph over a highly-touted Oliver Springs ball club catapulted the Region 2 Bulldogs into the No. 3 seed.
   Wartburg used a 17-play fourth-quarter drive to produce the go-ahead score, then held off Oliver Springs at the end.
   "It was (dramatic)," Davis said. "It was a game I thought could go either way, and it finished that way. We were fortunate enough to come out on top. But we played well, and Oliver Springs did, too."
   Coming off a 19-0 shutout of Chuckey-Doak, Hampton won four of its final five contests -- as did Wartburg -- to hit the postseason with a solid dose of momentum.
   Ever the crafty veteran, Campbell doesn't sense a lack of enthusiasm from his Bulldog pack.
   "They're looking forward to it," Campbell remarked. "They like to play. I've not seen anything like 'let's get it over with' or that sort of stuff. They'd even like to make a road trip."
   If the Hampton 'Dogs are to advance to the second round of the playoffs, they'll likely have to slow down Wartburg quarterback John T. Armes, a 6-0, 150-pound sophomore.
   While passing for a little more than 800 yards this year, Armes has produced 500 yards on the ground and played a role in 17 touchdowns (12 rushing, 5 passing).
   "He's very elusive," said Campbell, comparing Armes to South Greene QB Adam Hansel. "They run a lot of formations and they run the option out of all of them. He throws it real well. They throw when they don't have to."
   Junior fullback John England (465 yards rushing, 4 TDs), sophomore running back Derek Daugherty (370, 5 TDs) and senior receiver Andrew Polder (240 yards receiving) play complementary roles in Wartburg's spread-formation attack.
   "We live and die by spreading the field, running the option and throwing the football," Davis said. "That's our offense in a nutshell. We hope that's an advantage for us."
   Defensively, Wartburg is paced by senior defensive lineman Joey Wright, linebackers Derrick Sills, Michael Ellis and Wayne Frasier, and ballhawking defensive back Jake Hawn.
   "They're just solid all the way around," Campbell said of the Wartburg 'Dogs. "They do everything pretty well."
   On the flip side, Davis says the style of defense Hampton runs and its unbalanced offensive line have the potential to give his team difficulty.
   "Hopefully we can do some things that will cause them some problems," Davis said. "They're very-well coached. (Campbell) does a good job putting his personnel in the right positions and a good job of getting the ball in the hands of his gamebreakers. He's been at it a long time."
   Quarterback Mitchell Morton, all-purpose back Michael Peterson and fullback Jeremy Hall caught the eye of Davis during film sessions. Wartburg's coach is also impressed with linebackers Josh Nave and Jimmy Sarrett, plus Jason Humphrey in the middle of the Hampton defensive line.
   The performance of Hampton's offensive line, anchored by senior tackle Harry Page, could be the make-or-break factor for the home team on Friday night.
   "We'll just have to see what we can do," Campbell said. "Wartburg looks good on defense. They'll bring the house on you."