HAMPTON, Tenn. — The drive alone can be intimidating.
An unincorporated community just outside Elizabethton, surrounded on all sides by the Unaka Mountains, Hampton High School is every bit of a three-hour drive for even lead-footed bus drivers. It isn't a drive coaches necessarily like to make, especially for a regular season football game.
"It's a tough place to play," Oneida coach Tony Lambert said of Hampton High School. "That three-hour trip makes it a tough place to play."
But the three-hour trip is necessary, the price of having Hampton make the trip to Dr. M.E. Thompson Field last year. And, despite the distance between them, Hampton and Oneida are no stranger to one another.
The two teams will renew their rivalry Friday, with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff in the heart of the Unaka Mountains. WBNT FM 105.5 will have broadcast the game live.
Oneida won last year's game, 31-14, perhaps using its own home field advantage a little to jump on Hampton big before the Bulldogs had a chance to fully recover from the three-hour bus ride. But Lamber knows this year's Hampton team will be more of a challenge.
"They're big," Lambert said of the Bulldogs. "They were young last year. We were fortunate to get up on 'em quick, but they have another year of experience now." Then he reiterates: "They're big. They're physical."
Hampton is coming off a 48-12 smack down of Unicoi County in last week's season opener. Oneida is licking its wounds after a 14-13 heartbreaker to Rockwood. And Lambert said his team has to get better in a hurry if they're going to walk away from Hampton with a win.
"We have a lot of things to worry about, but the biggest thing we've got to work on is us," Lambert said. "We've got to do the little things . . . things like fielding the ball on an onsides kick with our hands team, things like not turning the ball over after two or three first downs, things like making extra points and getting the snap down, things like making field goals. We've got things we've got to fix."
Lambert is referring to the Indians' loss to Rockwood, which saw Oneida lead 13-0 late before the Tigers mounted a sterling comeback. Oneida had a crucial second half fumble that killed what had been a successful drive, missed two field goals, botched a crucial extra point attempt late in the fourth quarter, and allowed Rockwood to recover an onside kick attempt when an Oneida recovery would have effectively ended the game.
Despite pointing out what needs to be fixed, Lambert is quick to compliment his team.
"We've got all kinds of positives, too," he said. "I loved our effort (against Rockwood). I thought our kids played hard. Both our quarterbacks helped us. Defensively, I thought we played tremendous for the most part.
"I'm so proud of our team," Lambert added. "They haven't caused us a lick of trouble to this point. They come and work every day. And we'll get better."
Oneida is making its first trip to Hampton since 2011, when the Indians upset the Bulldogs in the second round of the Class 2A playoffs. This year's seniors were freshmen then. The Indians' last regular season game in Hampton was 2008, early in their run to the Class A state semifinals.
Friday's game will be the 10th between the two teams, dating back to 1981. Oneida leads the series, 6-3. Hampton last beat Oneida in the second round of the 2007 Class A playoffs.