Warriors silence Rebel Yell, will host playoff tilt

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   Happy Valley silenced the Rebel Yell of South Greene Friday night atop Warrior Hill posting a 27-12 win in their final regular season contest.
   The win was meaningful on many fronts. First of all, it gave the Warriors (6-4) their first winning season in four years and wrapped up second place in the Watauga Conference with a 4-1 league mark. It also meant the Warriors secured home field advantage in the first round of next week's TSSAA Class 2-A playoffs, where they carry in a two-game winning streak.
   Finally, it was the second straight season the Warriors went out on Senior Night with a victory over a Greene County school. Last year, HV topped North Greene in their final home game.
   Stars were a plenty on this night, but has been the case for most of the season, senior fullback Cody Cannon led the Warrior charge. Cannon rushed 11 times for 89 yards in the Warrior win and had a stellar game on defense recording nine tackles.
   "It was very important to win on Senior Night and to get the homefield advantage," said Cannon. "We hadn't had homefield advantage since my freshman year and it was important to me and all the seniors to have a playoff game at home. We came out prepared to win this game."
   He set up the first Warrior score taking a screen pass from quarterback Todd Caldwell and turning upfield for a 24-yard gain. The next play, junior tailback Tim Whaley turned the corner on a 16-yard run to the end zone. Casey Shatley's extra point gave HV a 7-0 lead at the 7:27 mark.
   Another run to paydirt by Whaley was called back later in the quarter by a holding penalty. It proved to be just a temporary setback. Jordy Harrison recovered a fumble on the South Greene 23 in the next quarter that led to a four-yard run by Lamar Rollins. Shatley put another one through the uprights to give the Warriors a 14-0 lead.
   The Rebels tried to tighten it up taking the ball downfield on the next possession before James Matherly intercepted a pass on the one-yard line and returned it 39 yards for the Warriors.
   The third quarter finally saw the boys from Greene County make their move. After converting on a fourth and eight with a 35-yard pass play from Ryan Ward to Jeremy Sauceman, the Rebs got on the board with Clayton Tweed's one-yard TD plunge. The two point conversion run failed giving Happy Valley a 14-6 lead.
   However, all was not good for the Warriors. Whaley, just 17 yards shy of 1,000 on the season, aggravated a prior rib injury, leaving rushing chores to Cannon and sophomore Michael Hollifield.
   The duo didn't disappoint, as Hollifield ran for 52 yards on the next Warrior drive that Cannon ultimately capped off with a five-yard run.
   Hollifield made the key play of the drive taking an errant pitch off an option play and turning it into a 21-yard gain. Hollifield's 93 rushing yards were the most on the team, who as a whole gained a total of 295 on the ground.
   "We ran the ball really well, especially in that third quarter," said Happy Valley head coach Stan Ogg. "Cody has been doing that all year, but he's especially been explosive the last three or four weeks. We needed that.
   Michael Hollifield did a great job getting downfield at tailback when we needed first downs. We didn't want to throw it. We got what we needed to keep the ball away from them and to go up by two scores."
   South Greene wouldn't give up without a fight, as they consumed less than three minutes on a seven-play, 69-yard scoring drive early in the final quarter. A fifteen-yard touchdown pass from Ward to Adam Smith punctuated the drive.
   Now only holding a 20-12 lead, Cannon blasted through a hole opened by tackle Josh Smith on a 50-yard touchdown run for Happy Valley. After the Warriors crossed that final hurdle and the last few minutes played out, it was time for the seniors to celebrate.
   "They scored really quick," said Cannon. "I thought after that score in the third quarter that we really had them down. But, they came back and scored quick. It was time for the seniors to step up. It was Senior Night and an emotional game. I wasn't going to get tackled once I saw that daylight.
   "It's been a quick four years, but it's been a wonderful four years. I've had great teammates, great coaches and great family support. This game was emotional. It was for my family, for the other players and everybody. I'm glad it turned out so good."
   Added senior defensive back Cody Stewart, "I was happy that our team came out and played 100 percent. They did the best that they could. We ran it right to them. I think I might have fractured my wrist on the second play of the third quarter, but hopefully I can get it looked at and will be ready for next week.
   "It's a good feeling. We're really happy getting to come back here and play a playoff game here and not have to travel anywhere."
   Although South Greene was out gained by 85 yards on offense, their biggest problem was turning the ball over. The Rebels had four fumbles and two interceptions in the defeat.
   "We're not a very good football team this year," remarked Rebel head coach Larry Ricker. "We make too many mistakes. We had guys go out there and fight hard. Happy Valley just beat us and we have no excuses for it.
   "We're in the playoffs and anytime you make the playoffs it's nice, but right now we're not a playoff team. We're just a team that happens to be in the playoffs. We will go and fight as hard as we can to play South Greene football."
   Ogg was more enthusiastic about the postseason, especially now that game one will be a top Warrior Hill. "We love it," said the HV coach. "We would much rather dress in our dressing room and forget about getting on a bus. We want to play here and make somebody else worry about traveling three hours."
   For those who plan on attending the Warriors' playoff game this coming Friday night, be mindful that starting time is 7 p.m., one half hour earlier than the kickoff time for regular-season contests.