November 14, 2018
By Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
To win nine games in a high school football season is very good. To go 20-3 over the past two seasons is outstanding. It’s incredible and says a lot about the great job that head coach Don Kerley and his staff has done rebuilding the program. The Longhorns started the year ranked at No.9 in the Associated Press Class 3A poll and stayed in the top 10 for the poll’s duration. The program moved up as high as No.5 in a season that will rank with some of the best.
The Longhorns have been ranked in the polls for 20 consecutive weeks dating back to the start of the 2017 season. But this year was different than in past ones because of the bizarre events that took place that started at Sullivan East and didn’t end until their playoff loss against Gatlinburg-Pittman. The Longhorns lost 20 seniors from the 2017 roster and many picked them to finish at the middle of the pack in 2018. But that didn’t happen. Let’s look back at some of the improbable events that occurred over the 11 week haul. Some of these will leave you shaking your head.
How to lead by double digits after one quarter and only run one offensive play:
I’ve been covering high school football for nearly two decades and have never seen this happen until this year. And I saw it happen twice. Johnson County led 12-0 at Claiborne County after one quarter of play but had run only one offensive play. Here’s how it happened. Johnson County’s Tyler Norris tackled the punter on fourth down at the 7-yard line on Claiborne’s first series to give the Horns possession. Nathan Lane scored on the first play from scrimmage to make it 6-0. The Bulldogs got the ball back and mounted a long drive that ate up all of the time in the quarter. They tried to kick a field goal but it was blocked. Weston Throop picked up the ball and ran it back for a 75 yard touchdown to put the Horns up 12-0 after one.
We can top that by scoring 18 points in a quarter while running one offensive play in less than two minutes. It’s unlikely but did happen. The Longhorns built an 18-0 lead against North Greene in less than two minutes and they did so by running only one offensive play. The Longhorns blocked a punt and Stacy Greer scored from 12 yards out on their first offensive play. The defensive scored touchdowns on the next two plays. Weston Throop recovered a fumble in the end zone for a 12-0 lead and Colt Moody did a repeat on the very next play. The Longhorns led 18-0 with over 10 minutes to remaining in the period.
Touchdown by the Bunches:
Nathan Lane shattered the single season scoring mark at Johnson County in 2018. But what he did in three games was quite remarkable. Lane scored five times (32 points) in their win at Unicoi County to clinch the conference championship. He added four touchdowns in conference wins over Chuckey-Doak and West Greene to give him a baker’s dozen in only three games. Lane’s performance was like going through a buffet bar. You knew it would be good but you didn’t know how it would be served up. The senior scored touchdowns by rushing the football, receiving, on kickoff returns, punt returns and interceptions. That’s a five-course meal of football.
Water Boy 2 starring Tyler Norris:
Johnson County’s football team had a like resemblance to the one at South Central Louisiana State University in the movie, Water Boy. The Mud Dogs featured their human tackling machine Bobby Boucher much like the Longhorns did linebacker Tyler Norris. Boucher’s team won the “Bourbon Bowl” while Norris led his team to its second straight Mountain Six Conference Championship. Norris provided the defense with the “tackling fuel” that it needed to hold the opposition to only 11 points per game average during the regular season. And he did so with some monster numbers.
Norris had 20 tackles plus games against Gatlinburg-Pittman, Cloudland, Chuckey-Doak and West Greene. He also went for 18 in two other contests. His lowest output was 10 tackles in one game. He shattered the record for most tackles in a single season this year in only 11 games with 190 unofficially.
Staggering yards per catch:
Senior wide receiver Zack Eller made the most of his opportunities. He caught 15 passes for 350 yards, averaging over 23 yards per reception. Eller also scored three touchdowns of 70 yards of more by a different variety. He had a kickoff return, punt return and a reception all of 70 plus yards.
Now you see it now you don’t:
The kicking game factored heavily in the Longhorns’ first victory. Tyrone McFadden kicked a pair of field goals that totaled 42 and 43 yards. They went the final ten games without a field goal made.
It’s a fact that Troy Arnold is a complete team player. He made the move to quarterback from his natural fullback position this year. Arnold’s value to the team showed in his two top performances on the season. He rushed for 120 yards against Sullivan Central leading his team to a come-from-behind 34-27 victory. The Longhorns trailed 13-0 at the half but rallied for 34 points led by Arnold’s heroics. He also threw for 300 yards in their 36-33 playoff loss to Gatlinburg-Pittman. Arnold tossed touchdown passes of 87, 70, 70 and 75 yards to four different receivers. He ended the season throwing for 1,025 yards unofficially.
Turning it around:
The Longhorns football program did a 180 since Don Kerley came on the scene in 2014. His teams compiled a 13-19 mark in his first three years at the helm, but the last two has been eye-popping numbers.The 2017 squad went 11-1 while the 2018 team registered a 9-2 mark. Kerley’s record now stands at 33-22 over a five-year span. The nine wins were the second most in a season for the Horns.As Dean Martin would sing, “thanks for the memories.” We are looking forward to making many more in the upcoming years.