JCHS tastes victory again with Unicoi
By Jonathan PleasantJohnson County 17
Coming on the heels of an amazing overtime win against Hampton, the Johnson County Longhorn football team was fiercely determined to get another taste of victory in Unicoi County. Losing the toss, but taking the initiative, it was as though an entirely different team had taken to the field in the opening rounds of the game as Johnson County pushed hard to get the first touchdown of the night.
Wanting to put the game in their favor as quickly as possible, the Longhorns used Unicoi’s choice to begin the game on the defensive to their advantage. The Blue Devils were caught completely off guard by the strength of Johnson County’s offensive line, and with Patrick South on the carry, the Longhorns had pushed to the 35-yard line in less than a minute. Unicoi quickly rebounded but were simply unable to reverse the steady advance. Halfway through the first quarter the Longhorns were fighting only a couple yards away from the goal line, and by the 6 minute 23 second mark quarterback Warren Kerley had finally managed to put the Longhorns on the board, 6-0.
“Kerley is coming along and can throw the ball pretty well,” said Coach Mike Atwood. “He gets better every week. He controls the tempo of the game like we want and he changes the snap count up a little bit, so he’s doing a good job.”
A strong kick by Ryan Mahala put Johnson County at seven and soon the Longhorns were on the defense. The Longhorns continued to dominate, starting with the first of many penalties for the game, setting the Blue Devils back an additional five yards. Holding tight, Jordan Grubb made a stop for a Unicoi fourth down with just over four minutes in the quarter, but the pressure really kicked up a notch when the Longhorns made a recovery on a Unicoi fumble a few seconds later. The change in hands didn’t result in any additional points, but the Longhorns still closed out the first quarter ahead 7-0.
Regaining the ball, Unicoi continued to run into a wall against Johnson County’s defense, and five minutes into the second quarter were forced to turn over the ball again after failing on their fourth-down attempt. Determined to score again, Johnson County made steady gains against the Blue Devils throughout the end of the second quarter, with Patrick South and River Cazire both making big first downs. Getting down to the last few yards, the game became a race against the clock, and unable to make the touchdown Johnson County chose to go for a field goal. With only 24 seconds on the clock Mahala made the kick and earned his team three more points, leading the half 10-0.
Staying strong throughout the third, South continued to make some big carries, helping him to bring in more than 160 yards for the game. “Patrick has had some big games and we expect some big things out of him. We kind of gear our offense around him right now. Our quarterback is just a young kid and it’s hard to put a lot of pressure on him right now, so we’ve told our line and our running backs that we’ve got to carry the game until Kerley gets some maturity on him,” Atwood said.
Unicoi began the second half in possession of the ball, but opted to punt on the fourth down less than two minutes into the quarter. Timmy Bellamy was the first to make a first down for the Longhorns after receiving the ball and South followed suit, picking up an additional 23 yards. Pushing Unicoi back from the three-yard line it looked as though the Longhorns might make a safety, but due to a personal foul called against them, Johnson County was forced to settle with a penalty.
“We had a couple of stupid penalties where we gave up a few points,” Atwood said after the game. “But after we looked at our offense we knew that if we could stop number five we could control the game a little bit. He’s a good back, a big kid, and we hit him hard but he wore down there, the line wore down there and I think that was the key.”
Recovering the ball thanks to Mahala, Chase Kleine landed a first down with two minutes on the clock, but the Longhorns couldn’t score again before the clock ran out on the third. Finally, just a few seconds into the last quarter of the game, Johnson County managed to get back across the goal line, putting them at 17-0 along with the extra point.
Desperate not to be shut out on their own field, Unicoi began really pushing hard in the last few minutes of the game ultimately earning their first touchdown at the four-minute mark. Trying to get back on track, the Blue Devils made an attempt at a two-point conversion, but Johnson County’s solid defense left them coming up short.
Despite being behind by eleven points, the Blue Devils made every effort to get another touch down and almost succeeded. Getting down to just a few yards, Unicoi just could not gain the ground they needed, and having run out of attempts was forced to turn over the ball with less than two minutes in the game. With the ball back in their control, the Longhorns simply had to maintain until the clock ran out, allowing them to walk away victorious 17-6.
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