Longhorns pull biggest win of season for homecoming
By Jonathan PleasantAmid the excitement of a charged homecoming crowd, the Johnson County Longhorns pulled out their biggest win of the season yet, dominating the Wise Central Warriors for the whole first half of the game. Winning the toss and choosing to defer to the second half, the Longhorns gave Wise the ball to start off the first quarter. In a matter of seconds, senior Ryan Mahala had made a big interception to run in what looked like a first touchdown. There was a flag on the play for blocking in the back, but the turnover still put Johnson County in a strong position very early on.
With quarterback Warrant Kerley making some accurate first quarter passes, the Longhorns eventually made their way to the goal line. The Wise Central defense pushed Johnson County to their fourth down, causing them to attempt a field goal. Bad luck struck again as Mahala went up for the kick, which went off to the right, preventing the team from scoring.
Yet as the Warriors found out after receiving the punt, Johnson County has a strong defense of their own, and in minutes of turning over the ball, Wise Central was making a punt return back to the Longhorns. A pass from Kerley to Chase Kleine with a little over six minutes left in the quarter resulted in a 15-yard gain and another pass following a first down from Luke Poteet put Johnson County at the four-yard line.
The Longhorns were finally able to get into the end zone with four minutes left on the clock, giving them a 7-0 lead with the extra point kick. Turning the ball back over to the Warriors, Johnson County’s defense proved just how talented they were, and in a matter of minutes managed one of the biggest turnovers of the night as Jimmy Morefield landed a huge interception to run the ball all the way back to the 11 yard line. “I was thinking I’ve got to run for my life,” Morefield said after the game. “I feel like our defense finally came together and made plays tonight. It is what we’ve been waiting for all season. They finally got it. We had it in our mind to play our hearts out. We clear our minds before the game. All we wanted was to play some football and kick some butt.”
Morefield’s interception gave the Longhorns exactly what they needed to get into position for a second touchdown, and although the clock ran out on the first quarter, the second began with Patrick South pushing across the goal line. Ahead 14-0, the Longhorn defense got back to work, with a big stop coming from Scottie Tester and several no gain plays for the Warriors. The ball was back in Johnson County’s possession in less than two minutes, and the Longhorns did not let up, making several first downs on passes from Kerley to receivers like Timmy Bellamy, Chase Kleine, and River Cazire. Although faced with a few incompletions, most of the pass attempts in the first half found their mark, accompanied by an equally strong ground game that even saw Kerley himself pick up nine yards on the carry.
Patrick South ultimately made Johnson County’s third touchdown with just less than six minutes on the clock. This time the Longhorns did not get the extra point, with the kick going slightly off course. Even so, Johnson County was still looking at a 20-point lead with time enough to score again before the half. Taking back control of the ball, Wise made a pass attempt of their own to no avail. Morefield proved indispensable again on the Warrior’s fourth attempt, making a brutal stop and forcing Wise to punt once more.
Back in the saddle, Kerley made a big pass to Jordan Grubb to gain several yards, and with a pass to Bellamy made the third touchdown of the night to close out the half 26-0. The end of the half also saw a big change in the success of the Longhorns offense. The team’s passing game in particular began to suffer in the third and fourth quarters, marking a notable difference from their early success. “The conditions could have had something to do with it,” said Head Coach Mike Atwood. “We threw the ball well in the first half, but in the second half we didn’t throw well at all. He pulled up on a few of the passes and if he would have went ahead and threw them it would have been better. We had some open people and we just missed them. It’s something we’ve got to work on but I was pleased with the passing game in the first half. They had 10 sometimes 11 guys in the box and we threw the ball fairly well. We had a few big plays with the passing game and had a couple good runs also. But we’ve got a lot to work on.”
In fact, from the third period on the game became almost entirely a battle of defense, with neither side coming very close to another touchdown. Johnson County became crippled with incomplete passes and lack of yardage in their ground game. As Wise stepped up their defense, the game ground to a halt. As much as the Warriors defense stepped up their game, so did the Longhorns. More than once throughout the second half players like Cole Peters were making sure that Wise was not only unable to gain ground but actually lost yards on their plays.
Peters got another big break as he recovered a Warrior fumble just three minutes into the third quarter. For Coach Atwood the strong defense was a key element in the game. “We had three interceptions today and that’s a big turnaround from where we’ve been. We didn’t get any turnovers last week and we got beat. We’ve got to win the turnover battle each week for our team to have a chance to win the way we play,” he said.
Timmy Bellamy also played a very strong defense, making one stop at the two-minute mark in the third quarter to cost Wise a couple of yards. The Longhorns were not able to make any gains of their own, resulting in a score of 26-0 that lasted all the way through the fourth quarter. Noting the sudden change in the way his team was playing, Coach Atwood tried to identify what ended the huge drive from the first half. “We played pretty good the first half but in the second we didn’t play very well and I’m not very happy with that,” Atwood said. “I don’t know if we got satisfied or where it’s just been so long since we had the lead. I don’t know what it is, but were not very happy with the way we played the second half and were going to have to get that fixed. They just put so many in the box and it’s hard for us to move the ball on the ground. We’ve got to do something to fix that before next week. But we’re happy with the win.”
The fourth quarter followed a similar pattern, with Johnson County’s defense making big plays, including an interception by Daniel Lester, followed by a weak performance from the offense. The end of the game was riddled with incomplete passes, which could have picked up big yardage but either failed to meet the receiver, or were narrowly fumbled on the catch. The Longhorns came very close to making one game-ending touchdown with only seconds on the clock, but coming up short, were forced to turn over the ball one last time after receiving a fourth down. With the clock winding down and still no points on the board, the Warriors made a last attempt with little success, rounding out the game with the exact same score that was on the board following the second quarter.
To read the entire article, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.