Frequent penalties nearly derailed Hampton, but the Bulldogs found a way to complete their part of setting up a Week 10 showdown with Cloudland.
The Bulldogs got 224 yards on 34 carries from freshman Adam McClain, and held off South Greene 48-41 on Friday in Greeneville.
With the victory, Hampton (5-0, 6-3) set up a Mountain East Conference title battle against Cloudland. All Hampton eyes are on the undefeated Highlanders.
Some folks have said Hampton doesn’t have much of a chance, suggesting a gap between the teams.
“I think we’ve got a shot,” said Bulldogs head coach Mike Lunsford. “I think over the last six games, we’ve played pretty well. Cloudland has a great defense and a great team. They’ve got some really great athletes.
“We will have to play really well to stay in the game. But I don’t think there’s that big of a gap between us.”
In the game against South Greene, Hampton was whistled for 14 penalties for 121 yards. The Bulldogs had multiple facemask and holding penalties, which helped the Rebels overcome the 21-0 deficit they were facing after just three Hampton possessions.
“We hadn’t had but four or five penalties in a game all year,” said Lunsford. “This is probably the least-penalized team I’ve coached. Last night it seemed like everything we did gave them a first down. We can’t have (that many) penalties. We’ve got to clean that up.”
Leading 21-0, Hampton’s defense let South Greene out of a fourth-and-22 hole, with the Rebels scoring a touchdown on the play. A fumble on the ensuing kickoff gave the ball back to South Greene, and the Rebels scored again.
“Things got a little hairy,” said Lunsford. “But we made a lot of unbelievable plays.”
One of the biggest bright spots for Hampton was lineman Boo Dugger. The 6-3, 295-pound senior played every snap of the game, and the Rebels struggled to contain him.
“Boo Dugger was wiping out one side of their line,” said Lunsford. “Boo was just a man among boys. You don’t get many like him.”
Another key to the victory was Dylan Ford. The junior blocked an extra point, caught a long touchdown pass, and totaled three interceptions — including the game-clinching grab as South Greene was trying to drive for a chance to tie in the final minutes.
“The difference-maker has been Dylan Ford,” said Lunsford. “The South Greene coaches told me they watched three films, and he scored 14 touchdowns. They said, ‘He ain’t going to score on us.’ But he did. They doubled him all night, but they went single coverage one time and he caught a long TD pass.”
South Greene had its standout player, too. Quarterback Hunter Waddell passed for 141 yards and accounted for all six of the Rebels’ touchdowns with three passing and three rushing. On defense, he racked up 19 tackles.
Overall it was the ground attack that allowed Hampton to get the win, said Lunsford.
“I think it was the best we’ve run the football in years,” he said.
And there were some bad things, too.
“If we hadn’t done some dumb things, the game could have been out of reach,” said Lunsford. “We didn’t play as good as we had been playing, and we gave up some big plays. But South Greene did some good things, too. They’ve got some athletes.”
Hampton still has a shot at a championship because it has overcome injuries this season.
“We’ve had 15 kids lose games because of injury,” said Lunsford. “That’s by far more that I’ve ever had. Every week we were playing with a different lineup.
“Now we’re starting to be able to play the same people. We’re getting cohesive.”
Lunsford said players like Tristan Robinson have made a difference.
“He does the quiet things, not the glory things,” said Lunsford. “He has blocked unbelievable. The whole offensive line has blocked well. Last night we ran three or four plays, getting 8-10 yards a lick. We were consistent.”
And when the blocks were there, McClain and quarterback Coby Jones made them work.
“Coby was unreal at quarterback,” said Lunsford.
Douglas Fritz is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. Contact him at email@example.com.