Wildcats bring end to Warriors' season

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF

   SWEETWATER -- Rarely was the old football adage, "speed kills" more evident than Friday night when homestanding Sweetwater ended Happy Valley's season in a 47-19 victory at King Berrong Stadium.
   "They've got excellent speed," said HV head coach Stan Ogg. "That's just a very good football team that did the things they needed to, to score a lot of points. We hung with them, but we didn't force them to punt the entire first half. The buck sweep and the trap they ran, we just couldn't slow them down.
   "Number 21 (Dustin Latham) is just fast. We saw film and talked to people and we knew how quick he was. We were well aware of their speed. But you see it up close and person, and you know they are quick."
   The Warriors, who came into the game without the services of starting tailback Cody Cannon, lost all three fullbacks before the final whistle sounded. Starter Stephen Thompson was injured on his first carry. Thompson gained 10 yards on a dive up the middle, but, his ankle was severely twisted on the play.
   Backups Andy Hilton and Jason Tittle also went down. Hilton hurt his knee while serving as a kick-holder on an extra-point play that Sweetwater was charged with a roughing the kicker penalty. Tittle was the victim of a solid defensive hit, hurting both his ribs and shoulder. The loss of these vital parts altered the Warrior offensive gameplan and also hurt defensively, where Tittle, Hilton and Cannon all were starting linebackers.
   "We definitely had to revamp our offensive scheme," admitted Ogg. "It wasn't obviously what we try to make a living off of. We were forced to play in a one-back set. We had them and a couple of linemen who where limited in what they could do. But, we had some people step up and give a good effort."
   Added senior lineman Jordan Fenner, "We had to use a formation that we hadn't worked on much. We had to move people to positions they didn't really know when people went down. It was a big loss. We just went out there and tried our hardest.
   "Losing Cody last week and losing 'Yoshi' the first play this week was a big setback. We drove the field and came back and came out strong late in the second quarter. But, they have a lot of quick players. They just came out and outran us. They got to the boundary and took it to the end zone a few times."
   Sweetwater showed flashes of the deadly speed on their first offensive play of the game. Latham ran up the middle 57 yards, setting up a good scoring opportunity. Two more Latham runs got the ball to the Warrior one, before Happy Valley stripped away the ball on the next play and Andy Bean recovered.
   The Warriors successfully changed field position with Tim Whaley placing a punt inside the Wildcat 10. After one quarter, the game was deadlocked in a scoreless tie. Sweetwater then used a mixture of sweeps and traps to run the ball downfield with Ayinde Lloyd making a 14-yard touchdown jaunt for the game's first score. Josh Stovall's extra-point gave the 'Cats a 7-0 lead.
   Happy Valley had a 29-yard run by quarterback Lamar Rollins before giving the ball back on the Sweetwater on their 29-yard line. On the next play, the 'Cats threw their first pass of the night, a 71-yard strike from Jedi Phillips to Jeremiah Parris for the score and a 14-0 advantage.
   While the Warrior offense stalled, Sweetwater was starting to hit on all cylinders with a 21-yard run by Lloyd, followed by a 20-yarder by Josh Evans to put the Wildcats ahead 20-0.
   But, Happy Valley would not go down without a fight. On the ensuing drive, they took a 14-play, 58-yard drive to paydirt. Highlights included a 13-yard completion from Rollins to Bean, a 12-yard run by Hilton and Rollins hitting Chris Campbell from four yards out for the touchdown. Casey Shatley booted the PAT to cut the margin to 20-7.
   Another Warrior injury was suffered on the last play of the half, as defensive tackle John Hughes hurt his shoulder when he sacked Phillips.
   Happy Valley came out determined on the opening drive of the second half. This showcased an 11-yard pass from Rollins to Jesse Bowers, an 18-yard run by Rollins and finally Rollins hitting Jack Everhardt in the end zone on a 6-yard throw. The extra-point attempt saw the injury to Hilton and a subsequent miss that put the score at 20-13, Sweetwater.
   Over the next three and a half minutes, the bottom dropped out for HV. Latham scored on a 1-yard plunge to end a 39-yard drive at 5:57 of the third. After getting the ball back, Rollins was picked off by Parris. Two plays later, Evans romped 40 yards for another Wildcat td. Then, the 'Cats recovered an onside kick. Another two plays and Latham hustled 29 yards to the end zone with his second touchdown. The end came when Thomas McCroskey hit Rollins in the backfield, forcing a fumble that David A. Moses recovered in the Warrior end zone at the 4:36 mark of the third quarter.
   Within a span of 81 seconds, the Sweetwater lead had increased by 27 points. "I tell what happened," explained Wildcat head coach Rex Rhodes, Jr.. "We went into the half and we weren't pleased with our defensively intensity. I thought we were catching people and reaching for them.
   "Then, they took the opening kickoff of the second half and scored. Our kids said, 'Whoa'. We stepped it up and were able to get some points on the board."
   The Warriors mustered one final drive in the fourth quarter. Rollins hooked up with Campbell on a 46-yard pass play to set up HV's final score, a two-yard run by Rollins with 7:46 left in the game.
   "That kid is tough," said Rhodes about Rollins, who finished with 56 yards rushing and 113 passing. "He is a player. He scared me to death all week. When we were up 20-7, I was still scared with that quarterback. We were finally able in the second half instead of reaching for him to take one more step and tackle him."
   Leaders for the Wildcats were Latham rushing for a game-high 132 yards and two touchdowns and Evans with 103 yards on 6 carries, also scoring two touchdowns. Phillips was two of three through the air for 88 yards, but it was primarily a ground-oriented attack with the 'Cats compiling 417 overall rushing yards.
   "We got more long runs than we've had in a while," Rhodes stated. "We didn't have that many sustained drives, but if we can get them like that, I'll take it all night. The 22 and 21 cut-back traps worked early. We were able to hit it up the first three or four times we ran it. After Happy Valley took that away, it forced us to go outside. We have some speed to go outside."
   Sweetwater, a school with three state championships in football, goes to 9-2 before taking on conference rival Oliver Springs in the next round of the playoffs. In all, it was a terrible night for Region 1-2A teams as all four entries - HV, Hampton, South Greene and Chuckey-Doak - were eliminated from the postseason.
   Happy Valley ends its year at 5-6 with highlights being a return to the TSSAA playoffs and the Warriors scoring big wins over Unicoi County, Johnson County and Chuckey-Doak.
   "We are proud of the effort they gave for 11 weeks," said Ogg about his team. "There's a lot of work that goes into it. It's tough on those 13 seniors who have to say goodbye to the game at Happy Valley. We'll miss them, but, we're awfully proud of them."