Last year’s game was a classic, and this year’s contest could be even better.
Elizabethton and Happy Valley, located less than four miles apart, will crank up the Three Rivers Conference football season when they meet at the Warriors’ field tonight. Kickoff is set for 7:30.
Both teams are ranked in the state in Class 3A, Elizabethton at No. 7 and Happy Valley at No. 9.
“The ranking is more for the kids and the community,” said Warriors’ head coach Larry Shively. “It won’t help us tackle No. 7 (Terrence Turner) or defend (quarterback) McKenly Berry’s pass on the deep go route.”
In other Three Rivers games, Johnson County plays host to Unicoi County and Sullivan East travels to take on Sullivan North.
In Blue Ridge Conference contests, Cumberland Gap is at South Greene, and West Greene is at home to take on Grainger.
In the Class A Mountain East Conference, Hampton is the home team against Cosby, and Cloudland has a home game against Hancock County.
In 2010, Happy Valley led 10-7 with 1:30 left in the game. Elizabethton had the ball, but needed 80 yards for a touchdown.
Berry, then a junior, had passed for just 52 yards at that point in the game. But on the final drive he totaled 49 yards through the air, and ran into the end zone from nine yards out with 24.4 seconds left to give his team a 13-10 victory.
Shively said after the game he wanted no part of moral victories, but the close call established respect for Happy Valley.
“They are a contender,” said Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten. “I think last year gave them a big boost, and I think they feel they’ve closed the gap. They’ve got our attention.”
Shively said Happy Valley needs to start doing its part in the rivalry.
“We’ve got to start winning some games,” he said. “We’re very hungry for a win. We’re a prideful bunch and we like for people to doubt us.”
Elizabethton pounded Daniel Boone 31-3 in this year’s season opener before falling 27-13 to Science Hill. The Cyclones have displayed the ability to move the football through the air (318 total yards in two games) and on the ground (322 total yards).
The Warriors have drilled their first two opponents, pounding Sullivan Central 39-13 and crushing Unaka 43-0. Happy Valley has been a ground machine as its triple-option offense has racked up 811 yards rushing in two games.
“You’ve got to play responsibility defense against them, and you have to be disciplined,” said Witten. “The thing about the triple option is you have to do it every play. If you don’t take the quarterback and he pulls it out, it can turn into a big play.”
Zack Ball has been the paydirt guy for the Warriors, racking up seven touchdowns in two games. He also has 280 yards rushing.
However, fullback Jaylen Simmons is the starting point for the offensive attack.
“If you don’t tackle Simmons, it will be a long night,” said Witten.
Elizabethton is led on offense by Berry, Turner, and a diverse set of receivers.
Unicoi County (1-1) at Johnson County (0-2) — Having been outscored 82-7 in its first two games, the Longhorns will likely be glad not to see Tennessee High or Hampton on the other side of the football.
However, the Blue Devils’ confidence is on the upswing after its 28-10 win over Chuckey-Doak last week.
Sullivan East (2-0) at Sullivan North (2-0) — Most people probably expected the Raiders to be 2-0 at this point, but it’s likely very few folks though the Patriots would be there, too.
North has won three straight in this series, by totals of 29, 21 and 13 points.
Cosby (1-0) at Hampton (1-0) — The Eagles gave the Bulldogs fits last year in a 25-22 thriller.
This year, Cosby comes in with confidence after opening the season with a 41-0 win over King’s Academy. Hampton will try to once again establish a strong ground attack, which wore Johnson County down in Week 1.
Hancock County (1-1) at Cloudland (0-2) — The Highlanders have been outscored 76-10 in their first two games, but haven’t allowed a point to Hancock County in their previous two meetings.
This is an important game for the Highlanders in terms of trying to get in position for a Class 1A playoff berth.