Gatlinburg-Pittman faces second straight test against Greenback

Aug. 26, 2014 @ 05:38 PM

Benny Hammonds warned his team all summer that Cocke County wouldn’t be an easy opponent to start the season with.

The Gatlinburg-Pittman head football coach, with more than four decades of experience, was spot-on with that assessment.

“It was a roller coaster,” said senior running back Michael Muszik. “It was up and down the whole time. Before the game started to after the game ended, it was just up and down the whole time.”

The Highlanders needed 133 yards and five touchdowns — three in the fourth quarter — from Muszik on Friday to edge the Fighting Cocks, 49-42, a year after they beat the same team by 35 points. It was a stern test that saw G-P (1-0) down 14 points in the first half and required a quarterback sneak from Albert Werner, in his first start at that position, to finally secure the win.

“We made enough mistakes to get beat by 30 or 40 points,” Hammonds said. “It just happened that Cocke County made mistakes, too. It wasn’t a very good game to watch.”

The Highlanders need to clean their game up with an even tougher opponent coming to Gatlinburg this Friday in Greenback (1-0). Last year, G-P needed a late fourth-down stand to hold on for a 20-14 win against the Cherokees.

Muszik missed that game in 2013, the beginning of a season derailed by nagging injuries. Healthy again, he’ll be needed against a Greenback team that won its opener by 22 points and reached the second round of Class A playoffs a year ago.

“They’re a small (school) but they know how to win,” Muszik said. “They play like  a team. That’s why they go so far in the playoffs every year. It doesn’t matter how small a school they are.”

Muszik will be taking handoffs Friday from a quarterback in Werner who played well in the opener. It was his short touchdown run on Friday that ultimately kept Cocke County (0-1) at bay. 

He changed the play from an outside handoff when he saw the defense, taking it in himself for the decisive score. The sophomore finished his first start at QB with 36 rushing yards on six carries and 109 yards through the air.

“It was third down so I knew if we didn’t get it we’d still have one more shot at the end zone,” he said. “I just trusted the line to put me in the end zone. It was great. It was a really good feeling.”

Replicating that won’t be easy. Once again, Hammonds is delivering sage warnings to his Highlanders.

“We’re going to have work harder than they do and we’re going to have be a better team than they are if we win,” Hammonds said. “They really put a lot of emphasis on their team togetherness. Any time you’re playing 11 guys that are all on the same path, they’re hard to deal with.”