By Jamie Combs
Playing Russian roulette with its on-field emotions, Hampton ultimately pulled the trigger on its postseason demise.
To put it another way, the sixth-ranked Bulldogs failed to let cooler heads prevail on Friday night — and the team paid the price with a 20-16 loss to Oneida in a second-round Class 2A playoff game at J.C. Campbell Stadium.
“We liked personal fouls better than we do winning,” Hampton coach Mike Lunsford said shortly after the contest. “It was more important to us to throw the football at somebody or run our mouth or shove somebody or something like that. It became more important for us to do that than it was to win the football game — and it cost us.”
In a contest that gradually got chippy, Hampton did major harm to itself with a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties over the final 8:16.
Clinging to a 16-14 lead, the Bulldogs drew the first of those 15-yarders following a 3-yard run by quarterback Lane Smith. The infraction yanked away enviable field position for the ’Dogs, who would have had a second-and-7 at their own 48-yard line.
“You just can’t lose your cool,” Lunsford said. “We played well. We were having to get 25 yards to get a first down, and you can’t get 25 yards to get a first down. You just can’t do it.”
Forced to punt three plays later, the home team then yielded a game-winning drive to Oneida, which capped the 77-yard foray with a 5-yard Brandon Smith touchdown run 2:02 from the end.
Hampton bolstered that march with its second unsportsmanlike penalty, tacking it on the end of an 18-yard run by Cole West. So instead of owning a first-and-10 at their own 48, the Indians had the football at the Hampton 37.
“I did a horrible job disciplining this group,” Lunsford said. “I didn’t do a good job.”
Oneida wasn’t immune to drawing an inexcusable — and expensive — flag. The Indians would have had a third-and-short inside the Hampton 5 in the third period, but suffered a personal foul and wound up missing a 25-yard field goal.
Absorbing a hard hit by West with 7:50 to go, senior tailback Phillip Waters didn’t rise from the turf for several minutes. He was then helped off the field and didn’t return.
Despite playing on an ailing ankle, Waters closed the night with 146 yards on 20 carries. Physically, the star runner was functioning at about 80 percent — according to Lunsford.
“I think he would have broke two or three of those (runs) if it hadn’t been for that,” Lunsford said. “It hurt him trying to tackle, too. He played hard — he had a good game. He played well.”
Waters used his 18th rush to reach the 2,000-yard mark on the season. Finishing with 2,007, he and Adam Townsend (2,079 in 2005) are the only two Hampton players to make it to that plateau.
Powerhouse Justin Adkins rushed for 137 yards (2 TDs) on 25 attempts against the Indians, giving the senior a season total of 1,141. Linebacker Tyler Trusler recorded 11 tackles in his last high school performance, lifting him over the century mark (101) for total stops.
“Adkins played one heck of a football game, and Trusler played an awful good football game,” Lunsford said. “They were dang good football players, and they’ll really be missed.”
Jamie Combs is the sports editor for the Elizabethton Star. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org