After getting off to a rough start, the Johnson County Longhorns pulled off an amazing feat of determination Friday night, battling back against local rivals the Hampton Bulldogs in a nerve wracking one point overtime victory. Ending a 17 game losing streak, the Longhorns simply refused to give up, battling back from a score of 7-21 before halftime to tie up the game in the last minutes of the fourth quarter. As the score crept ever closer together, the energy from the packed stands continued to build until it felt like electricity in the air powering the team on toward victory.
The game began on a dreary note with the Johnson County initially taking the defensive. The Bulldogs came ready to fight and within the first few minutes had pushed all the way to the end zone, quickly putting up a first touch down, and pulling away with a 0-7 lead. As the Longhorns scrambled to get back on their feet, Hampton continued to push forward, holding the Longhorn offense at bay and eventually forcing a punt. Regaining control, the Bulldogs made a couple of good passes to gain significant yardage and eventually landed a second touchdown with 3 minutes 35 seconds on the clock. Thanks to a blocked kick, Hampton didnt receive the extra point, but Johnson County was still looking at a 13-point deficit even before the second quarter.
While this would have broken the spirit of some teams, Johnson County was absolutely determined not to give up. Taking possession of the ball, the Longhorns began to slowly regain their composure, beginning with a strong first down at the hands of Lucas Poteet. Yard by yard Johnson County managed to gain ground, with players like Patrick South and River Cazire finding even the smallest hole to push through. By the end of the first quarter, the Longhorns were down to the six-yard line and in a good position to score in the second.
Having scored the only Longhorn touchdown the week before, South was ready for another attempt and before the first minute of the second quarter had passed Johnson County was on the scoreboard. The turnaround in the game was truly a team effort as one player after another began making their own strides to push the game forward. Timmy Bellamy and Connor Icenhour had several brutal stops on the defense, while Jimmy Morefield landed an amazing block on a Bulldog pass.
Possibly the biggest play in the first half and one that truly helped turn the tables began with just over four minutes left in the quarter. Taking a gamble, quarterback Chase Kleine made a stupendous pass to receiver Ryan Mahala, who then made an all or nothing sprint for the end zone. Gaining more than 70 yards overall, Mahala not only secured the Longhorns second touchdown, but also landed the kick that put Johnson County within one score of a tie at 14-21.
It was just a lucky play but I was glad it was on our side this time. I felt we needed a spark and so I thought well Im going to try one big one and see if it works out and luckily it did. Any coach will tell you that most of the time those dont work out but when they do its big. Kleine was our starting quarterback last year and we just put that in this week but it worked well, Coach Atwood said.
More than anything though, that second touchdown gave players like Timmy Bellamy just the motivation they needed to keep on battling. When we went into the locker room we just knew we were going to win, said Bellamy. We had to push through, we had to fight. All I was doing was ripping a hole to get there. So we fought and we won. Determination was all it was. We practice hard everyday, run sprints, keep everybody in shape, get excited for football. All we had to do was come together.
The third quarter became a back and forth grudge match to regain the upper hand. Hampton was determined to keep the lead, while Johnson County was equally determined to make another touchdown. Between the changes in possession, the Longhorns continued to work with everything they had to gain ground, and South continued to shine on the carry, in some plays gaining more than 30 yards.
We expect that out of our boys, Atwood said after the game. We expect them to make good runs. Patrick was a good back last year and now hes a year older, a year stronger, and a year faster, so we expect that kind of stuff. We just never were getting the kinds of breaks we needed and really we didnt get a whole lot of breaks this game.
Although neither side actually managed to take the ball all the way to the end zone, by the end of the third quarter the Longhorns were in increasingly better standing to pick up points in the fourth. The opportunity finally came just over a minute into the last quarter, and with South on the carry, the Longhorns made the game-tying touchdown. With Hampton now in possession and the pressure to score higher than it had been at any point in the game, fans on both sides watched every play with bated breath.
Knowing that another Hampton score would likely end the game, the Longhorns made every attempt to regain the ball and thanks to a timely interception by River Cazire, the game changed once again in the last five minutes. Johnson Countys possession did not last long however and ultimately both teams began eating away at the clock with narrow first downs, fumbles, and five yard penalties. As the last few seconds wasted away, fans knew they were in for a rare treat, an overtime game.
Winning the toss to determine possession, Hampton chose to play defense, and fueled by pure adrenaline, the Longhorns quickly closed in from the 20-yard line to score their fourth and final touchdown of the night. Opting for the extra point kick, the score settled in at 28-21. Yet the game was not over, and as Hampton took their turn the Bulldogs were quick to reach the end zone.
Coming down to one final decision, Hampton made the choice to attempt a two-point conversion, gambling on one last push that would either gain them the win or cost them the game. Pulling together out of sheer will, Johnson County made their last stand. As fans watched on the edge of their seats, the Bulldogs pushed forward, but meeting a solid wall of resistance, fell short of the goal line. After hours of fierce fighting, this one last effort sealed the win that the Longhorns had so long desired, bringing to a close a dry spell that was working on its third season.
For Coach Mike Atwood, the night could not have ended better. Our boys really fought hard and I was very proud of them. They deserve the win and Im happy for them. It will help our program a lot, because we were struggling. It was a gut check and there is really a lot of character to this football team, but we worked our butts off. Our guys had some confidence but in the back of their mind I know its always there that we havent won a game in a long time and werent really sure if we could. The biggest thing we had to change was the way our kids felt about playing football. They didnt expect to win, but weve been working on that all year and we changed what they thought. They began to believe they could win and this game is really going to give us a positive outlook again, where we can begin to think we might be pretty good, Atwood said.
As the crowd exploded in celebration, the players were left to bask in the glory of their hard won achievement. For players like Timmy Bellamy this game will likely become a memory not soon forgotten. This turns us around, said Bellamy. It does so much. It empowers us. We still praise God when we lose, but this time we get to praise God when we win and it feels so much better. Im just overwhelmed; overwhelmed with happiness and joy. Its just awesome, an awesome feeling.
Final Score Johnson County 28, Hampton 27