Warriors brace for Wildcats
Happy Valley desperately wants playoff win


star staff
jbirchfield@starhq.com

  From the beginning of the year to the end of the regular season, this is one game Happy Valley players have been marking on the calendar.
  Friday night, the Warriors will host Sweetwater in the opening round of the Class 2A playoffs.
  During the preseason preview, all-state defensive back Drew Davis mentioned winning this game as the number one goal for the Warriors, although he had no clue who the opponent would be. Star lineman Jordy Harrison, after finding out the Sweetwater Wildcats were Happy Valley's first-round playoff foe, admitted the team looked a little past Chuckey-Doak.
  Why is this game so important to the players on Warrior Hill? They haven't won a playoff game this century, in which only one team from Region 1 (Cloudland back in 2000) has scored a win over a talented group of teams from Region 2.
  "I think it would do a world of confidence for us," said HV head coach Stan Ogg. "We have a home game, so there is no excuses there. The next thing is you have to play well. You can't come with half your game and beat those teams. We haven't seen any bad teams from that region make the playoffs. They are physical and they are talented, so you can't intimidate them."
  Happy Valley enters the game with a 7-3 mark, riding a four-game winning streak and is undefeated at home in 2004. However, Sweetwater is also 7-3 with two of those losses against region foes Alcoa and Rockwood, both teams in the Top 5 of the final TSSAA regular-season rankings.
  The Warriors will look to use all of their resources to topple the mighty Wildcats. Fullback Will Lowe must have a good running game to complement tailback Michael Hollifield. When the Sweetwater defense puts eight or nine in the box, the Warrior passing game must take advantage of those opportunities.
  So far, Happy Valley quarterback Todd Caldwell has had a big year, passing for 1,047 yards. Greg Swafford has been a favorite target, while Davis caught three touchdown passes last week against Chuckey-Doak.
  "They are a physical team," said Ogg about the Sweetwater defense. "They have two inside linebackers (Malachi and Mathia Blomstrom) who really impress us. Their front eight, it looks like it will be hard to run the football on them. Many times there are too many people in there to block, so we have to get some outside or throw it. Patience will be a key."
  Playing against this defensive scheme does present a big play opportunity. If a Warrior back can get past the initial line of defenders, he could find a clear path to the end zone.
  To stop the Wildcat offense that relies heavily on the sweep, it means slowing down Dustin Latham. Latham, who was a freshman three years ago when Happy Valley lost at Sweetwater, is still the starting fullback. Then, as a ninth grader, he ran for 132 yards on 11 carries with two touchdowns. Now, he has matured into a 5-11, 230-pound senior.
  Final regular season opponent Oliver Springs was able to find success shutting him down. Unfortunately for them, a younger cousin Craig Latham took up the slack. This freshman Latham had a big game leading the Wildcats to a 28-14 win.
  "They run a jet sweep and most of what we have seen is a down sweep between the tackles," said Ogg. "We haven't seen all of their outside stuff. They try to beat you to the boundary with the smaller Latham kid. They have some quickness so we have to put a hat on them.
  "When they don't run the jet sweep, they run the fullback dive. The thing is they don't trap it so much. That kid (Dustin) Latham is a load. It's a lot like playing option football. You have to play responsibly."
  The Wildcats do have a capable passing duo as well with quarterback Sam Mason and wide receiver Jeffrey Moore. The Warrior players who played three years ago know all too well how explosive the Sweetwater offense can be. With HV down only 20-13 in the third quarter, the Wildcats scored 27 points in 81 seconds to put the game away.
  In 2004, HV experienced an up and down regular season. After opening with three wins, they lost three in a row before getting back on track with four straight wins in the Watauga Conference.
  "That's a credit to the coaches and players," said Ogg. "There were some times this year we all felt sorry for ourselves. We all were mad some, down some. Every player and every coach dug in when we had three losses in a row. None of us were happy with that. They were busting their tails to get out of that skid and to reach that ultimate goal."
  The ultimate goal was again hosting a home playoff game. Not faced with a three-hour road trip, Ogg feels his team can be competitive Friday night.
  "We know we have a chance," said the Warrior coach. "History doesn't live on our side. Last year our region was 0-4 and we have had two tough years facing Rockwood (in the playoffs). Our kids think it is important and they want to show people our conference has a little punch to it too."
  Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m. for playoff contests, half an hour earlier than for regular season games.