Rockwood finally cracks stubborn Warrior defense

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   For three quarters, the Happy Valley defense hung tough holding Rockwood to a scoreless tie, before giving up two touchdowns in the final period to fall to the Tigers 14-0 in the first round of the TSSAA Class 2-AA playoffs.
   That stingy Happy Valley defense foiled Rockwood scoring plans on two separate occasions in the first half when the Tigers had the ball inside the Warrior five yard line.
   "It was an outstanding effort," said Happy Valley head coach Stan Ogg. "You can't ask for anything more than what those players in red did tonight. Time after time after time, they turned them back."
   It was noted that this contest was much closer than a 34-7 loss to the Tigers in the regular season.
   "We were down 7-0 at halftime that first time we played them and things kind of snowballed," Ogg recalled. "Tonight, we gave them three scoring opportunities in the first half, but our players and coaches did a good job defending them.
   "We still almost had a goal-line stand the first time they scored to keep it 0-0, but that was just asking a lot. I take my hat off to our defensive players because their offense had scored a lot of points the last few weeks and we held them three and a half quarters scoreless."
   On the first drive, Tiger quarterback Preston Gallaher did cross the goal line, but the touchdown was negated by a holding penalty.
   "Down on the goal line, they did a great job keeping us out of the end zone," said Rockwood head coach John Webb. "We were able to line up and smash the ball down the middle the last time we played them. We were not able to do that (this time), especially down at the goal line. They did a good job penetrating."
   The statistics showed a lopsided contest with the Tigers getting 268 rushing yards to only 57 for Happy Valley. Bryson Pryor, the team's big fullback, was the leading offensive player of the game rushing for 127 yards on 21 carries.
   On the other aisle, HV fullback Cody Cannon was the leading rusher for his team, netting 43 yards on 11 carries.
   Despite their big advantage in the stats, Rockwood could do little damage to the Warrior front line once inside the red zone.
   It wasn't until 10:26 left in the ballgame that Rockwood managed to score, when tailback James Thompson hit paydirt from one yard out. After the extra-point kick failed, the Warriors were only one score away from tying the game.
   Happy Valley could only get one first down on the next possession, a quarterback sneak by Lamar Rollins on fourth down. The Warriors had to punt the ball away, but stayed in contention for the win until less than five minutes to go.
   After Pryor plowed through the line on runs of 19 and 14 yards, the Warrior defense tightened at mid-field. Faced with a punting situation on fourth down, the Tigers were beneficiaries of an offside infraction against the HV defense.
   They wasted little time taking advantage of the penalty, driving the ball downfield where Thompson scored his second touchdown of the evening on a five-yard run. Gallaher rammed ahead on the two-point conversion for the final piece of scoring.
   "We practiced harder this week, we played hard and we executed like we knew how to do," said Warrior interior lineman Josh Smith. "The only play that really hurt us was that fullback dive. We kind of fell for the pitch a few times. We held them until we slowed down in the fourth (quarter) and they kept on going."
   All the team put forth a gutty effort for Happy Valley, exemplified by the play of senior defensive lineman Kenneth Campbell. "Our defense worked pretty hard in practice all week," said Campbell. "Everybody stepped up on defense. We just couldn't get anything going on offense, but we did all we could do on defense.
   "We worked hard. We were physically and mentally prepared to play. This time around, we had a feel for them. Since we had already played them, we had adjusted what we didn't do last time. It made things a whole lot easier for us."
   A shoulder injury Warrior senior quarterback Rollins suffered all the way back in the spring prohibited him from throwing the football. That made stopping the Warriors a little easier, said Rockwood's coach.
   "We knew that he wasn't going to throw the football coming in," admitted Webb. "We thought he might be getting better, but we noticed down there in warm-ups that he wasn't throwing. That kinds of limits you when you can't throw the football."
   Countered HV coach Ogg: "People can tighten up on you, but we don't have any excuses. Rockwood did a really good job on defense. They confused us some and were quick to the punch in what they did. They had a nice defensive scheme against us.
   "Our kids played hard and we are extremely proud of them for giving everything that they had. Rockwood just had a little bit more and I wish them well."
   Up next for the 8-3 Tigers will be another rematch from the regular season, this time with Sweetwater, the undefeated No. 1 seed out of Region 2.
   For Happy Valley, their season has ended with a final record of six wins, five losses and a lifetime of memories for those playing the game.