If Elvis Presley were still alive, his advice to Happy Valley would be “it’s now or never.”
Tonight, the Warriors (0-1 Three Rivers Conference, 2-2 overall) need a win if they expect to try and duplicate last year’s playoff run.
Standing in the way is out-of-county rival Unicoi County, and so far it’s been a rollercoaster ride for the Blue Devils. Unicoi (1-0, 2-2) owns lopsided road wins over Chuckey-Doak 28-10 and Johnson County 33-14, but have also been taken to the woodshed a couple of times at home.
South Greene manhandled them 35-0, Hampton laid a 43-20 spanking on the Devils the last time out.
It hasn’t been a picnic for the Tribe in their last two games. They’ve been outscored 70-0 in losses to Elizabethton and Daniel Boone over the past two games after defeating Sullivan Central 39-13 and Unaka 43-0.
The lack of offense in recent games has left a bad taste in coach Larry Shively’s mouth. He said they’ve gotten back to the basics this week in addition to putting in a few wrinkles.
“Generally, it’s hard practicing after a loss but Monday was much tougher after the loss to Boone,” said Shively. “Thank God we’ve not experienced that too many times. After we got out of the doldrums and hanging our heads the kids went back to work. We can’t expect anyone especially Erwin to feel sorry for us. We’ve had upbeat practices on Tuesday and Wednesday. Everyone is ready to get back on the field and get this bad taste of losing out of our mouths.”
The Tribe must overcome the bushel baskets full of turnovers they’ve committed in their two losses. Shively is hoping that his team can put those aside.
“It’s a long season and it’s all about how you handle adversity,” he said. “One team is going to win on Friday and on is going to lose, but it’s all about how you handle it the following week. Can you handle success properly and deal with defeat? The ones that can do this eventually become the better teams.”
This was the case last season when the Warriors reeled off seven straight wins after early losses to Elizabethton and Clintwood, Va.
“The teams that we’ve lost to are going to whip most teams our size,” he said. “Elizabethton has one of the best teams in the state regardless of classification and Boone was fired up after starting 0-2. We ran into a hungry football team that was starting to play well, but we didn’t do ourselves any favors by turning over the football.”
The Tribe must find a way to get Jaylen Simmons going this week. So far the standout junior has yet to have the breakout game that many Warrior fans were expecting to see.
“We’ve changed a few things on offense. but we’re still primarily concerned with running the football and applying pressure on defense,” added Shively. It’s critical that we control the run game. You look at the Hampton box score and they completed 20 passes, threw 34 times and nearly gained 300 yards. It’s a contrast in styles. The thing about Unicoi is they will try to line up and run the football. They want to be balanced but coach Jerad Huskins is going to do whatever it takes to move the football, and so far it’s been with the passing game.”
The Warriors got some good news on Wednesday.
Starting wide receiver and safety Tyler Marlowe is back practicing after missing the last week and a half with a concussion. Running back Christian Mathes is likely to miss his second consecutive game.
“Other than those, everyone else is healthy,” Shively said. “They’re all champing at the bit, ready to go.”
The Blue Devils were their own worst enemy last week, turning the ball over four times. Quarterback Austin Hensley needs less than 300 passing yards to reach the 1,000 mark for this season.
The receiving duo of Hunter Goddard and Chase Honeycutt will certainly be a concern. Goddard hauled in nine catches for 117 yards against Hampton while Honeycutt provided six for 101. Hunter Abbott rushed for 127 yards on 21 carries and scored all three touchdowns.
“I don’t ever emphasize the term ‘must game,’ but our kids are not dumb,” Shively said. “They know this is an important Three Rivers Conference game that we must win. Second, Erwin and Happy Valley is a heated rival — so it has twice the importance of any other game. I expect us to come out ready to play and starting doing things the way we’re used to doing them. A win cures a lot of ill feelings. I can’t wait to watch our kids pay on Friday.”