Bulldogs open season up in thrilling fashion, 20-14

Published 1:56 am Saturday, August 21, 2021

BY NIC MILLER
STAR STAFF
nic.miller@elizabethton.com

Hampton-The first week of the 2021 TSSAA prep football season is finally here, and teams from all across the region are hopeful to begin their campaigns with a one in the win column.

One area team, the Hampton Bulldogs were able to do just that on Friday night as they took on the Tigers of Pigeon Forge, emerging victorious in a close battle by a final score of 20-14.

The Bulldogs were able to get on the board early in the contest as the first drive of the game gave Hampton a quick 7-0 advantage.

This strike came on a drive filled with dirty yards from both Levi Lunsford and Ryan Crumley, which would eventually be capped off when the electric Bulldog quarterback Conor Jones dove across the goal line for six.

Michael Harrison would cap off the drive with a PAT split through the uprights.

After a silent remainder of the first quarter from both teams, it would be the Bulldogs who would add on to their single score advantage in the early stages of the second stanza. A controversial no-catch call that would have put Hampton inside the red zone forced the Bulldogs to convert on fourth and one.

After the conversion, Hampton would have another chance at a deep pass from Jones, one that would this time be successful thanks to a one-handed grab by Grayson Young for the score to make it a 14-0 ball game in favor of the Bulldogs.

The remainder of the first half was a quiet one, but Pigeon Forge would come alive at the beginning of the second half as the opening kickoff would be returned by Ayden Littles and taken 67 yards across the goal line to make it a one-possession game once again, 14-7.

The Tigers would complete the comeback on their next possession as a failed fourth-down conversion at midfield by the Bulldogs set them up in great field position.
A combination of defensive penalties and trick plays like the hook and ladder helped the Tigers find themselves inside the five-yard line where Littles would truck a Bulldog defender to cross the plane and score once again, knotting things up at 14 apiece.

Midway through the final quarter of play, Hampton would break the tie after another edition of the ground and pound, one that would be finished off by Lunsford who would muscle his way across the goal line from one yard out. The extra point would be no good, however, making it 20-14 in the final stages of the contest.

On the ensuing possession, the Tigers would commit two costly errors by having two big pass plays, one of which that was a touchdown, called back by holding penalties.

These mistakes would lead to a turnover by Pigeon Forge when Jones would make his mark on defense, intercepting a pass to give his team the ball late.

After running the clock down to a minute and a half, the Bulldogs would give possession back to the Tigers, where things would become stressful.

After two costly defensive penalties by Hampton that would set Pigeon Forge up just inside the red zone, the Bulldogs’ defense would answer the call with four consecutive stops including a quarterback sack by Geno Carrico to allow Hampton to run the clock out and take the victory, 20-14.

Bulldogs head coach Michael Lunsford spoke on those final few plays to close things out, saying, “We felt like we blew several opportunities to get them off the field quicker, but I am just proud of our kids for gritting their teeth and being able to make a play to help win us the ball game.”