Longhorns loses final home game to Elizabeth
By Jonathan PleasantEven before the season started the Longhorns knew they would have their hands full against Elizabethton. Having one of the top reputations for a team not only in the conference but in the whole region, the Cyclones were out to make Johnson County just another notch in their already successful season. Yet what Elizabethton got was one of their tougher games this year thanks largely to a strong Johnson County defense that didn’t back down even against a bigger and faster opponent.
“They’re very fast, but we felt like we did a fairly good job on defense,” said head coach Mike Atwood. “Third-eight points is a lot of points to give up against anybody but we played well. They’ve scored more points than that against everybody they have played. We held them down lower than anybody except Science Hill, and they scored 35 even on Science Hill.”
Surprisingly many of the big defensive stops and saves came from some of the younger players on the team. Sophomore Payton Fenner had numerous hits, especially in the first quarter, while fellow sophomore Alex Tressler did excellent not only receiving the punt, but also in regaining the ball, as he did when he landed an interception in the second quarter.
Yet, as Coach Atwood pointed out, even a strong showing from a few players wasn’t enough to make up for the noticeable lag on the offense. “Our defense did well, and Alex did well,” Atwood said. “Alex is getting better every week. He’s always around the ball, he intercepts, he picks up fumbles, he does it all, and he’ll tackle. He tackles well. I’m not going to say anything bad about the defense, the offense just didn’t play well. Offensively, I thought we had three or maybe four chances to score and we never did. We don’t have anybody offensively stepping up and making plays right now when they need to. It hurt us, especially against a good team like Elizabethton. I know they scored 38 points but our offense just put us in bad shape. Our offense didn’t play very well and that was the difference in the ball game.”
As Atwood pointed out, Johnson County simply couldn’t keep control of the ball long enough to make a difference. Elizabethton was the first to receive, eventually making their first touchdown in that single possession, yet even with running back Patrick South making a 16-yard gain, the Longhorns simply could not answer with a touchdown of their own. Following a sack in the backfield, Johnson County was forced to punt and in less than a minute of receiving Elizabethton had climbed to 14.
Johnson County gave their best effort in their second possession, making a big pass to Senior Kevin Dempsey to gain nearly 20 yards only to be followed up by an equally critical pass to receiver Greg Roark. That drive lasted through the first quarter, but was shut down at the very beginning of the second when Elizabethton intercepted. The Cyclones would have likely scored again, but the Longhorn defense really began to step up, eventually forcing Elizabethton to punt.
Regrettably that possession didn’t last long either as the Cyclones intercepted yet again. The defense remained solid and even though Elizabethton made it all the way past the 20-yard line, Tressler was able to give the Longhorns an interception of their own right in the end zone, resulting in a touch back. Narrowly dodging that bullet, Johnson County struggled on through the third quarter where they put together one of their most successful drives of the game.
Yet, as Coach Atwood explained, even at the goal line the offense simply couldn’t pull through. “We’ve got guys that can make the plays, but they’re not making them when we need them to. We dropped a touchdown pass this week, right in his hands, and that kind of changed the game. We’ve got receivers making tough catches and then dropping easy ones and it’s at a bad time. The most important play is the one that happens when you have to have it. It’s not the one that happens when you don’t need it. We just don’t have anybody making the plays when we have to have them. We’re just not consistent in our passing game or our running game. We can run the ball down the field to a third and one and then get one yard.”
With the failure of that last third quarter push the Longhorns were never really able to muster another strong run. Throughout the rest of the game it came down to the defense holding the Cyclones back as much as possible. A touchdown late in the second left Elizabethton at 21, while a field goal and two more touchdowns in the third pushed the lead to 38. The defense did their best job in the fourth, holding the Cyclones back the whole quarter, but with nothing on Johnson County’s side of the scoreboard, the game still resulted in a disappointing loss.
“We did some good things on defense, but offensively we’ve got get a few more first downs, and score some points, keep the other teams offense off the field,” Atwood said. “If we could have gotten a few first downs they might not have got a few of those scores. Then if we could have scored a few points it might have been a different game. Until we get somebody on offense that’s going to step up and make some plays were going to struggle.”
Regrettably next week may be an even bigger challenge as the Longhorns take on the Sullivan South Rebels on their own field. “These are the best two teams that we play,” Atwood said. “But, anybody that was at the Elizabethton game knows we played well. Their offense had 20 more plays than we did. They had 20 more chances to score than we did. We just couldn’t keep our offense on the field and that hurts against a team like Elizabethton. It will be the same thing next week if our offense don’t move the ball, get some first downs, and take some time off the clock. We want to keep their offense off the field and to do that we have to get first downs and keep the ball. That’s what we want to do.”