Penalty spells defeat for JCHS with four seconds left at goal
By Jonathan PleasantIt was a battle of the defensive lines at Happy Valley Friday night. In a game full of interceptions, fourth down turnovers, and narrowly missed opportunities, the Longhorns did their best against the Warriors on their own field. After four full quarters of grueling, heart pounding work to hold Happy Valley back, Johnson County simply could not make the necessary offensive play that would have given them the one touchdown they needed to pull off a win.
At 0-6 with just four seconds left in the entire game, Johnson County took the ball all the way to the very edge of the goal line and came just about as close to pulling off a last second win as a team can. Yet, in one of the most heart wrenching endings that Johnson County football has seen in years, a critical last penalty call cost the Longhorns those precious few feet of ground that meant the ultimate difference between victory and defeat.
“We finally had a good effort like we wanted to but we just couldn’t get it done in the end,” said Head Coach Mike Atwood. “We had opportunities to score and came down to the end of the game and all we had to do was make one play and we couldn’t make it. I hate it for our kids, they played hard but that’s just the way it goes.”
One of the biggest hindrances of the night came from an injury that took quarterback Warren Kerley out of the game. Sophomore Justin Pardue did an admirable job filling his older counterpart’s shoes, but there was some understandable pressure in stepping into such an intense role. Even under the heat, Pardue made several successful passes to players like Greg Roark and Kevin Dempsey but also faced numerous calls of pass interference against a determined Happy Valley defense. Regrettably, a few of these ended in interceptions that proved very costly by the end of the night. The shift in quarterbacks also challenged the Longhorns running game, stemming largely from the different styles of the two players.
“When you get a different quarterback in there it’s a different rhythm,” Atwood said. “Everything is different, and it hurt us. We had too many turnovers. You can’t turn the ball over that many times against anybody and win, much less a good team. It’s a tough one for us. Having Kerley out killed us. That’s just the simple fact of it. It killed us not having Kerley.”
Ironically, while the offense struggled the defense played one of their strongest games so far. Happy Valley had as many or more opportunities to score as Johnson County did, but every time a determined defensive line managed to turn them back. Players like Cole Peters, Jake Greer, David Eller, and Chris Petralia made hit after hit, stop after stop, bringing the warriors offense to a stand still and even landing a few hits in the back field. As a result there were several times that Happy Valley were forced to turn the ball over on downs or punt if they were in the right position.
On the passing game, younger players like Alex Tressler were able to make big plays on interceptions or blocking the Warrior’s receivers. As a result Happy Valley was able to reach the end zone just once, pushing through on a lucky break and then making a huge touchdown pass. This single score aside, Johnson County’s defense did everything the coaching staff could ask for, making the last second loss that much more disappointing.
“Our defense played very well,” Coach Atwood said. “We really stepped up. I didn’t really think we could hold them to six points but I sure thought we would score more. I thought we’d at least score a few times. I just hate it for our kids because they played so hard.”