Peterson carries Bulldogs to Watauga championship

By Jamie Combs
SPORTS EDITOR
jcombs@starhq.com

   AFTON--Hampton tailback Michael Peterson knows how it feels to be a Duracell battery. He's got long-lasting power you can trust.
   Difficult to bring down from start to finish, Peterson ran 21 times for 130 yards and four touchdowns on Friday night as the Bulldogs, polishing off their first Watauga Conference championship since 1996, turned away the Chuckey-Doak Black Knights 32-7 at The Black Hole.
   "I feel like I improved a lot this week on making good cuts," said Peterson, whose performance helped earn him the conference rushing (1,050 yards) and scoring (82 points) crowns. "I worked hard on that in practice this week, and I think that helped out a lot tonight. I still couldn't do it without the line blocking real well for us, and good coaching and play-calling."
   Hampton (4-0, 8-2), which moves on to host Wartburg Central in the first round of the 2-A state playoffs, would have tied for the Watauga title (with Happy Valley) had it lost to Chuckey-Doak (0-4, 1-9), but the Bulldogs were not in a sharing mood.
   "We didn't want to share it," said Hampton head coach J.C. Campbell. "We went through some rough times there. We didn't have very many seniors for the last two or three years. Some of these kids started as freshmen and had to play. They weren't ready and took some licks and took some beatings. It was tough on them, and I'm glad for them now."
   Although they didn't really dominate the game -- the score was 18-7 at the end of the third quarter -- the 'Dogs made their fair share of good plays while the Black Knights offered a few glimmers of hope for the future, but came up grapefruit sour in the turnover department, losing the ball seven times.
   Getting the ball to start the game, Hampton needed just five plays to dart 73 yards to the end zone, with Peterson doing the scoring honors on a 34-yard cutback run.
   When Josh Nave recovered a fumble on the Black Knights' first play from scrimmage, the 'Dogs had excellent field position and muscled their way to the Chuckey-Doak 1. From there, Peterson ate up the final bit of real estate to give Hampton a 12-0 edge.
   Another Black Knight fumble, this one recovered by Justin Waycaster at the Chuckey-Doak 12, led to the third Bulldog touchdown of the game. Again scoring from a yard out, Peterson put Hampton on top 18-0 early in the second quarter.
   Chuckey-Doak, though, wasted little time answering the 'Dogs as Chris Lane handled the ensuing kickoff and zipped 84 yards to paydirt. The toe of Nicole Miller, the Black Knights' female place-kicker, accounted for the extra point.
   "We didn't play top-notch, but at the half we decided that we were going to come back out and block them -- not do anything fancy but just see if we could block somebody for a change," Campbell said. "I thought we accomplished that and we knuckled down and played some defense when we had to.
   "And Chuckey-Doak did some good things. Give them some credit. I thought they played hard and did some good things with the football."
   Maintaining possession for the first nine minutes of the third quarter while marching all the way to the Bulldog 4, the Black Knights came close to making things highly interesting.
   However, on third-and-goal, crafty defensive back Mitchell Morton stepped in front of a Chuckey-Doak receiver in the end zone and snagged a key interception.
   "I baited the quarterback in," said Morton, who intercepted two passes in the game. "I knew where it was going to go. They thought it was wide open, he slipped right over there and I just took it."
   Said Chuckey-Doak head coach Ben Murphy: "If we score there in the middle of the third quarter it's 18-14 and a different ballgame. That kid made a heck of a play, and I think that just kind of broke our hearts right there. It was downhill from there on out."
   Recognizing a shift in momentum, Hampton immediately marched 80 yards on 12 plays and punched the ball in for a touchdown on a 10-yard Peterson run. Cody Walsh booted the PAT for a 25-7 Bulldog advantage with 9:34 to play.
   Following the game, Peterson, a four-year starter, savored his first 1,000-yard rushing season.
   "I've been waiting for that since I was a freshman, and it finally happened," he said. "I'm glad it was the last (regular-season) game of my senior year. It feels great. It makes me feel like the happiest man alive."
   After Robby England scooped up the sixth of seven Chuckey-Doak fumbles (the Knights lost five), Hampton added one more TD when Jimmy Sarrett bulled his way to the end zone from 15 yards away. Walsh then split the uprights to cap the scoring.
   "We came out and took advantage of their fumbles by turning them into touchdowns," said Morton, who carried nine times for 66 yards at quarterback. "Then we weren't pumped up and really just laid down, basically. They ran over us, and then finally we got back to where we left off. We did very well and I'm proud of them. We actually got into the game and wanted to play at the end of the game."
   Sarrett topped the 'Dogs in tackles with nine, followed by England and Corey McKinney with seven apiece. Waycaster, Donny Singleton, Adam Potter and Pat Murphey each chipped in six stops.
   "We didn't feel like we'd come down here and lay an egg and share the (conference title) with anybody," Peterson said. "We won it, and I think this is good momentum for the playoffs. It's time to get it together and start focusing on our first playoff game. Hopefully, we can go to the state."
   The Hampton-Wartburg Central tilt will be a first-round rematch from a year ago, when Wartburg posted a 12-0 victory.
   "We need some weather that we can get out and work in," Campbell said. "It was bad all week."
   Fullback Steven Gaddis performed quite well for the Black Knights, rushing 15 times for 64 yards. Lane added an interception.
   "It was senior night, but we rotated a lot of young boys in and out tonight," Murphy said. "That gives us a lot of optimism for next year. Hats off to Hampton. They're a good team and they deserve everything they've gotten this year."