After a gritty 13-6 non-conference win over Trinity Home School, Happy Valley (7-2) will play at South Greene (8-1) with a chance to win a share of the region title and the No. 1 seed in the upcoming TSSAA playoffs.
“We’re very blessed to be 7-2 and at this point,” Jarrett said. “This is a very rare, resilient bunch. They’ve found a way to overcome adversity and we’ve played a lot of close football games. The bright side is we’ve learned to play those close games.”
Included in those close wins was a 14-8 decision over Hampton in week three, setting the stage for Friday night. A win and they’re No. 1 in the region. A loss and the Warriors will likely fall to No. 4 behind Hampton, South Greene and Sullivan North, which defeated Happy Valley 24-14 a week ago. While the win over Trinity didn’t help in the region standings, the Warriors got a needed lift with junior quarterback Eli Ayers throwing two touchdown passes.
“To get a non-conference win on senior night, that was a big momentum boost for us heading into South Greene next week,” Jarrett said. “It has been an uphill battle all year, but this team continues to find ways to get it done.”
They’ve mainly gotten it done on the defensive side, where they’ve held opponents to eight points or less in each of their seven victories.
Middle linebacker Luke Roberts leads the defense, piling up 92 tackles going into the game with Trinity. He was followed by Marquise Cole with 79 stops, Will Tittle with 71, Kamden Richardson with 67 and Cameron Slone, who has 62.
It has been an interesting fall for Slone, who has played on the offensive and defensive lines, and also lined up as a skill player. He caught the Warriors’ first touchdown pass against Trinity and also had a fumble recovery.
The performance came a day after he helped the Happy Valley cross country team qualify for the state meet. His plans for this week are to play the football game against South Greene on Friday night and then go with his cross country teammates to race in the state championships on Saturday afternoon.
“Cameron Slone has been a leader in several different roles,” Jarrett said. “When he speaks, the other guys listen. He’s a tough-nosed kid from a great family. He’s a wrestler, a cross country guy, a football player who does it all to help his teams out.
“He has come back from a tough injury at Onieda last year when he had a fracture in his back. For him to put together the season he has offensively and defensively, he’s been a valuable guy who has moved around multiple positions for us.”
It has been needed with the Warriors suffering multiple injuries and coming out of the Trinity game even more banged up. A few weeks earlier, receiver Blake Young was lost to a season-ending neck injury. Determined to turn a negative into a positive, it became a rallying point for the school with a steady stream of friends visiting Young in the hospital.
“The room was full of players and other friends,” Jarrett said. “That’s what we do at Happy Valley. We rally around one another when we face adversity. It was a tremendous loss athletically, but he’s still a great teammate. He shows up for practice all the time to support his team.”
Jarrett is hopeful that Young can recover in time to join his teammates on the court during basketball season.
Tittle is another multi-sport athlete, who is an example of the Warriors’ versatility. He has played quarterback, running back and receiver at different times for the offense. He ranks as the team’s leading receiver with 20 catches for 344 yards.
“We’ve asked Will to make changes throughout the year with the different positions,” Jarrett said. “On defense, he’s moved from outside linebacker to safety. On offense, he’s played in the backfield, but we’ve needed him at wide receiver. He has been a ‘Mr. Everything’ for us and has been unselfish to do whatever he can to help the football team win.”
Other offensive leaders include Ayers with 561 passing yards and eight touchdowns, and Matthew Bahn and Jordan Campbell, who have spearheaded the rushing attack. Bahn has 69 carries for 517 rushing yards and Campbell has accounted for 373 yards.
“Eli has done a good job of leading us,” Jarrett said. “Our guys follow Eli and he plays cool, calm and collected. He does a good job scrambling and keeping his eyes downfield. He’s done a good job of managing the offense.”
More than stats, Jarrett talked about a small, but influential senior class. There are only eight seniors with only five of them with significant varsity experience. Those five include Campbell, Roberts, Tittle, Slone and Ty Pierce.
Another player who has come on strong is sophomore Andrew Little, who had two interceptions Friday night. Other defensive leaders include Eli Phillips, Mason Hicks and Timmy Mounts. Although young on the offensive line, Jarrett praised the efforts of Peyton Primeau, Alex Lunceford, Drew Turner and Landon Babb for their improvement.
While the region title is a big goal, Jarrett feels this team is enjoying success beyond wins and losses.
“They’re learning lessons as players, but they’re learning lessons which will help them beyond football as they become adults and face true adversity in their lives,” Jarrett said. “We’ve played a tough schedule, a lot of slobber-knocker football games, but they’ve done a great job and have kept fighting.”