Just getting ready for a high school football season opener can be a daunting task.
Doing it well enough to beat a much bigger school leaves room for a pat on the back.
Happy Valley, a Class AA school, started off on the right foot with a 20-12 victory over Class AAA Volunteer on Friday night. It wasn’t the prettiest thing, but still worth a blue ribbon, said Warriors head coach Larry Shively.
“I told the kids the ugliest Miss America is still Miss America,” said Shively. “We made a lot of silly mistakes, and it was an ugly win.”
Preparing for the season opener was quite a task. Football is a different animal than other sports.
“I’ve coached them all at some point,” said Shively. “In baseball, you could hand the ball to Nick Crowe or Daniel Norris and eat a sandwich and watch them pitch. Or you can give a basketball to Michael Jordan. Those coaches work hard, too, but the sheer administrative tasks and keeping everybody on the same page in football, it’s tough. There are so many moving parts, and things happen so quickly that will get you beat. It’s nerve wracking.”
Factor in the sideline difference: the Falcons put 68 players in uniform compared to just 43 for Happy Valley. Plus, the Warriors had 10 freshmen play in the game.
Then things got even more difficult for the numbers-challenged Warriors as the high humidity caused several bouts of muscle cramps for both teams.
“At one point it looked like the Battle of Gettysburg with all of those players laying on the sidelines,” said Shively. “All kinds of new people had to go into the game. But I was pleased. Our kids handled it with passion.”
None was more passionate than Phillip Garland, who carried 24 times for 205 yards.
“He runs with rage, as hard as I’ve seen in 17 years,” said Shively. “For a 210-pound back, he’s got the agility to make people miss. And he apparently has the speed, too. He would go two yards, three yards, minus one, and then 60. By pounding the defense, sometimes he finds a crease.”
Garland scored on a 51-yard run to put Happy Valley ahead 7-6 early. He later added a 40-yard scoring run to make it 20-6.
Between those big plays, Garland’s backfield mate came up with a key effort to save Garland from a big turnover. A fumble by Garland at the Falcons’ 2-yard line was scooped up in the end zone by freshman Austin Hicks to give the Warriors a 14-6 advantage.
“Garland took a helmet to the football, but the No. 1 thing in our program is to have the ball at the end of the play,” said Shively. “Austin Hicks popped on it like a bag of money. It was just a hustling play. Last year we wouldn’t have gotten that break.”
The old ball-bouncing-your-way fortune is part of something Shively said he hopes will lead to a successful season.
“We had a down year last year, so just winning the first one this year builds confidence for a young team,” said Shively, whose squad was shut out in last year’s season opener by Sullivan Central.
Assistant coach Paul Overbay said the win over Volunteer was earned well before August.
“He said it was won December through May with strength and conditioning,” said Shively. “Since we play so few people, most are playing both sides of the ball. Conditioning for us will be a big factor.”
Shively said he was pleased with the play of the offensive line despite a few missed assignments. The offense also had some exchange issues, partly attributed to a slick ball because of the humidity.
Defensively, the Warriors stood their ground after getting pounded on the Falcons’ first drive of the game.
“The kids settled in, and they shook it off,” said Shively.
The Warriors held Volunteer to 0-for-11 passing in the second half. Standouts on defense included linebacker Trey Perkins, tackle Eli Hyder and end Devon Peters.
“Our whole defense played well,” said Shively. “Trey was all over the field, and Eli was disruptive up front. The defense won the game really.”
Carter County rival Cloudland is up next — kicking off four home games in a row for the Warriors — and Shively said his team will have to respond.
“It easier to practice after a win than a loss, but as soon as we pop in the film and show what Cloudland is capable of …,” said Shively. “It will be a fiery game, a neighborhood brawl.”