A lot of people are saying Happy Valley has a better football team than the one that lost to Elizabethton in Week 2.
But have the Warriors made 42 points worth of improvements?
“We laid an egg the first time,” said Happy Valley head coach Larry Shively. “We want to show Elizabethton how we can play football. The kids are excited to get a shot at redemption.”
The two rivals will have a rematch in the first round of the TSSAA Class 3A playoffs tonight at Rider Field. Kickoff is set for 7 o’clock.
In other Class 3A playoff contests, Sullivan North is at home to take on South Greene, West Greene plays host to Austin-East, and Chuckey-Doak visits Pigeon Forge.
Elizabethton (7-3) is understandably a strong favorite against the Warriors (6-4) after its 41-0 win in the first meeting, but Cyclones’ head coach Shawn Witten said rivalries can mess with the equation.
“It’s a cross-town rival with a bitter taste in their mouths,” said Witten. “You can throw records aside and it’s anybody’s game. We have to play our best, advance and move on.
“We hope the valuable experience we’ve had the last couple of years will pay off and be a big factor.”
Elizabethton has made back-to-back appearances in the state semifinals, winning three games each year before losing to Alcoa.
On the other side, Happy Valley wants to add to its postseason resume that was started with last year’s first-round playoff win.
“A good program wants to win and keep playing,” said Shively.
Both teams will be interested in running the football, even though the Cyclones boast arguably the area’s best throwing quarterback. McKenly Berry has passed for 1,389 yards with 18 touchdowns and has completed 61 percent of his passes. He has four receivers — Chad Pritchard (25), Zach Treadway (22), Drew Holsclaw (18) and Wes Montgomery (11) — with doubledigit catches on the season.
However, running back Terrence Turner (1,207 yards rushing) is a major factor, and freshman Ethan Thomas has come on strong late in the season as Turner has dealt with a turf toe injury.
“I think the key for us in the playoffs the last two years is we have been able to run the football,” said Witten. “We feel confident we have four or five guys who can run it.”
As for the Warriors, they definitely want to run and Jaylen Simmons leads the way. He has 874 yards rushing while Zack Ball (713) and quarterback Seth Davis (394) are also ground threats.
The Warriors have changed their offense, departing from the triple-option look and moving to a spread gun while still running the same basic plays.
“We’re probably 80-20 run-pass now instead of 95 percent run,” said Shively. “But we know Elizabethton will have nine guys in the box, so we will have to make some plays down the field.”
As with any playoff game, special teams could play a key role. Shively said he’s looking for a big play from his team in any phase of the game.
“Somebody has got to step up and make a play,” said Shively.
• South Greene (5-5) at Sullivan North (10-0) — The Rebels will be hard-pressed to keep up with the Raiders’ high-scoring attack, which averages 41 points per game.
North averages just 3.4 pass attempts per game, but boasts two 1,000-yard rushers in quarterback Cory Rowe and running back Kiree Thompson. Freshman Jacob Jasper has 686 yards rushing.
• Austin-East (6-4) at West Greene (7-3) — This game was a thriller in last year’s playoffs as the Buffaloes were denied a tying score at the 1-yard line on the game’s final play.
The best thing about that finish is West Greene doesn’t have to be convinced it can play with the Roadrunners.
Buffaloes running back Dalton Boles will try to continue his assault on the state’s record books. He has rushed for 2,489 yards this season.
• Pigeon Forge (7-3) at Chuckey-Doak (7-3) — The Tigers better bring a lunch pail as they face an game-long assault from Julius Montgomery.
The bruising Black Knights’ running back is coming off a 332-yard performance last week, and has over 1,400 yards rushing on the season.