HV out for win, respect vs. Tigers

By Jeff Birchfield

   When the Happy Valley Warriors take on Rockwood Friday night, they will be looking for more than just a win in the first round of the TSSAA playoffs. Just as important, they will be playing for respect for Region 1.
   No one can blame the attitude of many of those in Region 2, feeling their teams are superior to those in our area. After all, the last Region 1 team to win in the Class 2A playoffs was Cloudland in 2000, before restructuring sent them to Class A.
   "You only get respect if you earn it," stated Warrior head coach Stan Ogg. "You've got to beat some of these people to earn respect. We know there are no excuses like 'they get the breaks or all that.' We know who they are, what kind of talent they have.
   "Top to bottom, Region 2 is better than Region 1. That's just the way it is. We do respect them and we're trying to burn the midnight oil trying to beat them."
   Don't be fooled into thinking the Rockwood Tigers are taking Happy Valley lightly. The Tiger coaching staff was on hand Halloween night to watch HV's 53-7 regular season romp over Chuckey-Doak.
   "They look like a good football team," said Rockwood coach John Webb. "They're doing the fundamentals real well and they will get after you. We do respect everybody up here (in Region 1). Coach Ogg has done a good job with his program and now you have Gatlinburg-Pittman up here. We know we will have our hands full Friday night.
   "Happy Valley is a good place to play, but it's a tough place to play. We enjoy that it's become a rivalry, and the camaraderie that we have between the two teams."
   Three times in the past two years Happy Valley and Rockwood have met on the football field, with the Tigers winning each affair. However, the Warriors did show noticeable improvement in the last meeting. After getting whipped 34-7 in the regular season, Happy Valley only lost by two scores when the two teams lined up in the first round of last year's playoffs.
   "We played a lot better defense when we met in the playoffs," recalled Ogg. "The opportunity was there to be tied in the fourth quarter. We bent, but we didn't break. They had some opportunities to score, but we kept them from punching it in from the red zone. We didn't move the ball on offense last year and left the defense on the field too long. We have to move the chains if we want to beat them."
   This season, while coach Greg Hyder has kept the defensive playing aggressively, the offense has come along nicely for coordinator Drew Pettit. Tailback Tim Whaley went over the magical 1,000-yard rushing barrier last Friday with an amazing 301-yard performance. In addition, quarterback Todd Caldwell led a passing attack that ranked near the top of the Watauga Conference.
   The Tigers' size on the line and reloading of skill players stand out to Ogg. Any discussion of who you have to contain if you have a chance against Rockwood begins with running back Bryson Pryor, who ran for 159 yards against Harriman last week.
   Like Whaley is backed up by a competent runner in Michael Hollifield, Ellery Harvest fills that role for Pryor. On the other side of the ball, Joseph Bowman, Zach Scruggs and Josh Clark lead a Tiger defense that is well-disciplined in forcing plays back to the inside.
   "These guys have been through it just like the Happy Valley kids," said Webb. "They know what it's all about this time of year. We stay basically the same. We try to do what we do best, which is run the football. We're not going to change a lot this year."
   Certainly on paper, it looks like the Warriors match up better against the Tigers than the previous two seasons. They come into the game with a 9-1 record and have outscored opponents an average of 30-10. The players and coaches do appear more optimistic facing Rockwood this time around.
   "The approach this week has been no different than the last 10 ballgames," said Ogg. "These players do have a lot of confidence. The coaches have brought that out in them and the players have brought that out in themselves. Rockwood has had our number the last 24 months. Last year they were better than us, but we've tried hard to correct that."
   Rockwood, which the Warriors last beat in 1997, counters with a record of 8-2 and is the No. 3 seed in Region 2. Like HV, the Tigers are coming off an impressive win. Last Thursday, they trounced rival Harriman 41-7, after leading only 7-0 at the half.
   Kickoff time is scheduled for 7 p.m. with the winner to advance to the second round against the winner of the South Greene-Oliver Springs contest.