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It was a bittersweet victory for Larry Shively.
Happy Valley scored a 13-10 win over Abingdon (Va.) on Friday night, but for its head coach and assistant coach Randy Ferrell, it meant facing an old friend.
The Falcons are coached by former Science Hill head coach John Bowles, whose staff included Shively and Ferrell.
“Coach Bowles is a good coach and a good friend of mine,” said Shively, who was Bowles’ assistant from 1999-2006. “I told him after the game that we were tickled to win, but it was like punching my brother in the face because I have so much respect for him. He’s been around the block a time or two, so I have nothing but respect for coach Bowles.”
Although Abingdon put together an impressive opening drive, the Warriors controlled the line of scrimmage otherwise. For the game, Happy Valley outgained Abingdon 302-73 on the ground as running backs Jaylon Simmons and Zack Ball both reached 100 yards.
Simmons had 16 carries for 114 yards, while Ball’s 16 carries resulted in another 100 yards and the game-winning touchdown.
The performance showed how far the Warriors’ line has come.
Happy Valley had to replace four of five offensive linemen from last season, and struggled mightly in losses to Elizabethton and Daniel Boone.
“They’re both capable of getting a 100-yard game, but it all goes back to the offensive line,” Shively said. “We’re good on the offensive line and if the quarterback makes the right reads in the option game, we have people who can carry the football. The harder they run, the better coach I am. So we’re going to keep on feeding them the ball.”
The line played a huge role on the defensive side as well.
After a turnover deep in their own territory near the end of the first half, Happy Valley limited the Falcons to a field goal. It meant the Warriors trailed just 10-7 at the half, and were able to take the lead with a 15-play, 80-yard drive in the third quarter.
For the rest of the second half, the Warriors’ smothering defense held Abingdon to just three rushing yards.
It’s been a nice turnaround for Happy Valley after being shut out on consecutive weeks. The Warriors defeated rival Unicoi County one week ago, and then followed it up with Friday’s victory. Hopes on Warrior Hill are this season will mirror last year when HV started 2-2 and then won seven straight games.
“It’s so much easier to practice when you win,” Shively said. “When you’re not used to losing, those two weeks were rough. Our kids remembered last year where we reeled off seven of eight wins and made it to the second round of the playoffs.
“The main thing with our kids is confidence. Once we get this thing rolling and take care of the football, there’s no reason we can’t do something like that again.”
The turnover bug has been the Warriors’ single biggest enemy. They have 17 turnovers for the season, including two costly ones on Friday night.
The first one was an interception near the end of the first half, and the second one was a fumble late in fourth quarter when the Warriors were trying to run out the clock.
“It’s the darnest thing I’ve seen in 15 years,” Shively said. “We do the same drills and stress ball security as much as anybody. We’re going through a bad stretch like we’re playing with a greased ball. But, we will get it corrected. It’s something we can fix.”
The good news for the Warriors are they’re sporting a 4-2 record despite not playing their best football. Shively cites a Science Hill legend when talking about the only statistic that truly matters.
“I tell the kids what Steve Spurrier said that statistics are for assistant coaches and losers,” he said. “The only statistic we’re really concerned with is the final score. We want to do the things we do at Happy Valley -- run the football and stop the run. If we do that, we are pretty hard to deal with.”
Next up for the Warriors is homecoming week and a huge game with Sullivan East. With both teams sporting 1-1 records in the Three Rivers Conference and the Patriots at 4-1 overall, the game could have huge playoff implications.
“Coach (Mike) Locke has a fine football team,” Shively said. “It’s like night and day from last year (when the Patriots finished 0-10). They have a good running back and their quarterback is in tune with what they’re trying to do.
“It’s a huge game in our conference. We have homecoming which is good and bad. There are a lot of distractions going on. But, the kids know what is at stake and we’re going to have our best effort against Sullivan East.”