Warriors out to tame Wildcats

By Jeff Birchfield

   The Lost Sea is the most famous attraction of Sweetwater. Friday night Happy Valley (5-5) hopes their playoff season doesn't go awash at the Sweetwater (8-2) football field.
   Stopping Happy Valley's offense comes down to one thing according to Sweetwater head coach Rex Rhodes, Jr.. "Everything begins with their quarterback (Lamar Rollins)," said Rhodes. "He's a pretty slick, little dickens. He runs the option well and throws well too."
   The task of shutting down HV's leading playmaker will fall to a Wildcat defense led by a core of four players. Two linemen Thomas McCroskey and Calvin Bradley, along with linebackers Dylan Boruff and David Moses are the Cats' main offensive stoppers.
   Rollins has shown both talent at running and passing near the top of Region 1 in both categories, but he will have to do so this coming Friday without the aid of Cody Cannon, the Warriors' leading tailback.
   When they have possession of the pigskin, Sweetwater uses a wing-T formation with their bread and butter following a big offensive line on the buck sweep. "They've got some speed," said Warrior head coach Stan Ogg. "There's no question. They have good skill positions, but their offensive linemen also runs well.
   "They have guards in the offense that can really run. They can pull and lead the sweep. This bunch is more of a true wing-T and waggle. They are the first wing-T team like this we have faced in a couple of years other than Sullivan South, who we scrimmaged. They're basic. They don't try to do a lot of trick stuff."
   The Wildcats' offensive set is a staple of teams in Region 2. "We sure get a lot of practice defending it," said Rhodes about the wing-T. "Because around here, everyone and their momma runs it.
   "Jedi Phillips (6-2, 185), a junior, he's our quarterback and the one who has to make sure everything clicks, getting the snap from center. At fullback, we have freshman Dustin Latham. Ayinde Lloyd and Josh Evans are at the wingback slots. Our offensive line have gotten better. We're primarily a sophomore and junior group. We struggled early with youth and inexperience, but we came on at the end of the year."
   Seniors Forrest Holt, Jason Tittle, Andy Hilton, Jesse Bowers John Hughes and Matt Walsh solidfy a Warrior defensive frontline that must stop the forward progress of the Sweetwater offense. They are complimented by a stellar group of underclassmen -- Daniel Dover, Kenneth Campbell, Jordy Harrison and Josh Smith.
   Earlier this season, coach Ogg purposely scheduled a long road trip to Rockwood anticipating what his team would have to face when playoff time approached.
   "We didn't want to go on the road in the playoffs," stated Ogg. "But, eventually you have to. We wanted to see that type of competition. There are a lot of similarities between them and Rockwood.
   "We wanted to see a hostile enviroment after all the travel. You spend three hours on the road and have to get ready to go. You can't just sit in the Tri-Cities to be successful in the playoffs. That's why we scheduled one down that way."
   Meanwhile, Rhodes and company are enjoying the comforts of a home field advantage. "You don't have to make travel arrangements," remarked Rhodes. "You're pretty much able to stay in a routine."
   Speaking of Rockwood, there are one of two common opponents the teams have faced this season. Rockwood beat HV 30-14, while Sweetwater squeaked by them on a field goal with 10 seconds left to win 38-35. The other opponent was Gatlinburg-Pittman, whom Sweetwater defeated 28-6 and the Warriors lost to in a 24-21 thriller.
   Only two teams have bested the Wildcats this 2001 football season. Defending state 2-A champion Alcoa won 26-14 over Sweetwater and Class 3-A Loudon took a 23-15 victory against the 'Cats.
   If there is an achilles heel for the Wildcats, it could be the kicking game. "We can be decent or we can be poor," admitted Rhodes. "Sometimes we are pretty good on kickoff returns and other times we don't block well. We're not very sound in some areas. We have to use different kids to return kicks and punts."
   The Warriors look to capitalize on their opponent's special teams' woes. "We've had some breakdowns of our own," lamented Ogg. "Especially at Rockwood, where we had a punt blocked and a punt returned for a touchdown. Everybody makes some mistakes in the kicking game.
   "We look for weaknesses and see if we can take advantage somewhere. We spend time on the kicking game, covering all kicks. It establishes field position and we have to do that if we want to win."
   Happy Valley is coming off a tough 27-6 loss to South Greene last Thursday night for the Watuaga Conference championship, but none of that matters now.
   "Number one (seed) can beat four," remarked Rhodes. "Four can beat one. Two can beat three and so on. It's down to one game now."
   For you Warrior fans traveling to Sweetwater to see this do or die affair, remember the playoff game kicks off at 7:00 p.m..