JC’s Taylor Cox prepares to hit a shot at the net for the Lady Longhorns. They fell in the state tournament by a close score of 2-6, 6-7 and 6-2. Photo contributed by Jeff Birchfield, Johnson City Press.
By Tim Chambers
The perfect terminology to define the 2017-18 year at Johnson County High School would be “one to remember.” It would be hard to look back and find a more complete season that Longhorn teams provided their fans with. It all started on the football field back in August when Johnson County broke a three-year losing streak to Sullivan East and destroyed the Patriots 34-0. That win set the tone for one outstanding year because so many players contributed to the victory. Nathan Arnold threw a pair of long touchdown passes to Shane Greer that covered 60 and 25 yards. Greer caught four passes for 136 yards, and Arnold was 9-13 for 207.
Caden Arnold used his speed to score a touchdown in the game. Gage Hampton added a couple of touchdown runs to spearhead the offense, but their defense was just as impressive.
Haden Osborne had 10 tackles and a pair of sacks. Bud Icenhour contributed a pair of interceptions. Tyler Norris provided eight tackles and a sack while Zack Eller and Josh Herman combined to break up a total of six passes. Jordan Edes-King shined on both sides of the ball with a 38-yard reception in addition to his six tackles, a fumble recovery, and a sack.
It got even better when the Longhorns defeated Hampton 20-8, their first victory over the Bulldogs since 2013. Osborne, Norris, RJ Snyder, and Edes-King combined to register 46 tackles with 13, 12, 11 and 10 respectively. Icenhour finished with 146 all-purpose yards. Will Kerley and Cameron Clawson provided some stellar defensive plays while Nate Shepherd and Tristan Dishman anchored the offensive line that played one of its better games of the year.
The football gods were looking out for the Horns the following week after they slipped past Chuckey-Doak 14-13. It was the second consecutive road victory. A blowout win over Unaka and a hard-fought 28-21 comeback victory at West Greene caught the eye of the state sportswriters. They were ranked No. 3 in the Class 3-A poll and stayed there the entire season.
Fans will always remember the 98-yard fumble recovery-touchdown run by Norris at Happy Valley that allowed them to walk away with a 14-7 victory over the No. 8 ranked Warriors in 2-A. The Longhorns stayed unbeaten with wins over Claiborne County, North Greene, and Cloudland. They got revenge against Unicoi County 28-14 on Senior Night to cap off their perfect 10-0 regular season.
Their 21-20 win over Northview Academy will never be forgotten and neither will Osborne’s block of the extra point with 1:20 remaining in the game that preserved the victory. Their 11-0 record came to a halt the following week in the second round of the playoffs to Austin East 30-21.
Some key players from the football team would play a vital role on the basketball team that finished with 22 victories. Bud Icenhour, Nathan Arnold, Edes-King, and Eller would find themselves in starting roles on the hardwood along with All-State candidate for 2018-19 Blake Atwood. Included in the win total were a couple of big ones over Elizabethton. A young girl’s team that was made up mainly of sophomores and freshmen earned a road win over Elizabethton and defeated Hampton under the tillage of veteran head coach Leon Tolley but his first on the Longhorns’ bench.
The boys topped the Bulldogs twice for the first time in several years and hosted a home game in the regional, which they lost in the final seconds. Not to be outdone was the tennis team who had a banner year under first-year head coach Zack Pittman. Taylor and Olivia Cox won the regional doubles title and played in the state tournament for the first time ever. Noah Cox and Will Henson reached the finals of the regional before losing a close match. The girl’s team made the regionals and came within one set of going to the state tournament.
Several players will continue their careers at the college level. Nathan Arnold, Jordan Edes-King, and Tristan Dishman have signed to play football, Bud Icenhour will continue in basketball while Cayleigh Blair is set to cheer at Tusculum University. Will Kerley’s calling into the ministry is definitely one of the year’s greatest memories.
Condolences to Nate Shepherd’s family
It breaks my heart to end this column with a somber moment. I was first elated to find out that football standout Nate Shepherd had received a scholarship to ETSU that will provide him four thousand dollars per year over the next four years as reported by his mother, Marsha Shepherd on her Facebook page. Ms. Shepherd was a true Longhorns’ fan and had complimented me before after an article I had one on Nate. She was killed in an automobile accident on Monday near Little Stoney around the lake just days after Nate’s graduation. I want to extend my condolences and prayers to all of Nate’s family in this time of sorrow. Always cling to those special times you all enjoyed over the years. I’m asking that the Johnson County community embrace Nate and his family, not just now but in the days ahead.