By Tim Chambers
Brooks and Dunn’s “You’re going to miss me when I gone” was the fitting tune for Longhorn fans to sing after Friday’s contest with Austin-East. Twenty-plus seniors and company gave Johnson County its most memorable football season ever before coming up just a little short inside of Paul McEwen Stadium.
The Roadrunners put together one “beep-beep” of a second half to earn a hard fought 30-21 come-from-behind victory in the second round of the TSSAA Class 3A state playoffs.
The historic Horns ended their storybook campaign with an 11-1 mark.
They walked off Paul Arnold Field with a ton of hurt but earned the respect of high school football fans from across the state.
Head coach Don Kerley praised his squad when trying to sum up the game. He said the things they had done well in recent games came back to haunt them against A-E.
“I’m proud of the team and the leaders we had,” said Kerley. “They had to fight through a lot of adversity but they kept plugging and did what we said. It seemed like everything didn’t go our way last year with injuries and all but they worked on it in the off-season. Our kids left it on the field every night. They played 48 minutes as hard as they could. We just had too many turnovers tonight and we have not had that all year.”
The Roadrunners opened the game with a 46-yard kickoff return from Isaiah Ligon that gave them great field position at the Longhorns’ 37. Elijah Jeter would later score on a 2-yard run giving the Roadrunners a 7-0 lead.
Johnson County stole back the momentum on their first play from scrimmage.
Nathan Arnold’s 64-yard touchdown pass to Shane Greer was on the money allowing the Horns to tie the game at 7-7 after Tyone McFadden’s PAT at the 9:02 mark.
The Longhorns continued to make big plays. Nathan Lane picked off a pass near midfield that set up another score.
Arnold hit Greer a second time with a 54-yard bomb to make the score 14-7. Greer carried two would-be tacklers the final five yards after giving them the old stiff arm around the 15.
That closed out the first quarter scoring for both teams.
The Longhorns got down near the red zone at the 25 in the second quarter but a costly penalty and interception would end the threat.
Edward Hakizimaha kicked a 31-yard field goal late in the period for A-E’s only points. Johnson County led 14-10 at the half.
The second half didn’t start well for Johnson County.
Calvin Wilson recovered a fumble deep in Longhorn territory that led to their next score. Isaiah Ligon put the Roadrunners in front 17-14 with an 8-yard touchdown run but the cardiac kids from Mountain City wouldn’t go away.
Arnold and Greer burnt the Roadrunners defense for a third time with a 19-yard touchdown pass that gave them a 21-17 advantage after McFadden’s PAT but a second fumble on their next possession would lead to another A-E score.
Ligon scored on an 8-yard run after hauling in a 23-yard pass from Jeter to get them inside the 10. They led 24-21 with 7:23 remaining in the game.
Johnson County was moving the football on their next possession but a costly phantom unsportsmanlike penalty put them back on their own 13 and forced them to punt.
The Roadrunners capitalized on the short field with a final 36-yard touchdown by Kiwantoe Warren.
“We hadn’t turned it over all year but tonight things didn’t bounce our way and some calls went against us,” added Kerley. “But give credit to Austin-East because they had something to do with that. They’re a good football team and very athletic. Ligon was an exceptional runner and receiver and tough to bring down.”
Johnson County reached the 17 on their final drive but was unable to punch it in.
Jeter ended the game completing 10-19 passes for 145 yards. He was 6-of-8 in the second half. Ligon rushed for 60 yards and caught five passes for 75 more.
But the night’s biggest numbers were recorded by Arnold and Greer. Arnold ended his final game throwing for 243 yards and three touchdowns, completing 18-of-35.
Greer had nine catches for 178 yards and three scores. Bud Icenhour hauled in five receptions for 40 yards. The Longhorns were held to 47 yards on the ground.
The defense was led by a quartet of heavy hitters. Hayden Osborne and Tyler Norris led the assault with 13 tackles apiece. Seniors R.J. Snyder and Jordan Edes-King added 10 each. Lane contributed seven tackles and an interception. Will Kerley bagged a half dozen in his final game. Zach Eller and Josh Herman each broke up a couple of passes.
Coach Kerley said his kids left everything on the field.
“I’m so proud of these seniors for what they have meant to the school and community,” added Kerley. “We had so many good leaders out here and the kids gave their all every game. We wish it didn’t have to end but they played Longhorn football the way it’s meant to be played. They made us all proud and will always be remembered. It’s the first time since 1988 that we’ve won a conference championship and hosted two playoff games.”
2nd Round TSSAA 3A playoffs
Austin East 30, Johnson County 31
Austin East 7 3 7 13 — 30
Johnson Co. 14 0 0 7 — 21
1st Quarter A-E—Jeter 2 run (Hakizimana kick) 9:22
JC—Greer 64 pass from Arnold (McFadden kick) 9:02 JC—Greer 54 pass from Arnold (McFadden kick) 6:45
2nd Quarter A-E—FG 31 Hakizimana .17
3rd Quarter A-E—Ligon 8 run (Hakizimana kick) 3:05
4th Quarter JC—Greer 19 pass from Arnold (McFadden kick) 11:47 A-E—Ligon 7 run (Hakizimana kick) 7:23 A-E—Warren 36 pass from Jeter (kick blocked) 5:22
1st Downs A-E 15 JC 15
Rushing yards A-E 46-135 JC 18-57
Passes A-E A/C/I 10-19-1 JC 18-35-2
Passing Yards A-E 146 JC 243
Total Offense A-E 281 JC 15 300
Fumbles A-E 0-0 JC 15 2-2
Punts A-E 2:32 JC 15 4:31
Penalties A-E 10-75 JC 15 7-60
Rushing: JC— Hampton N. Arnold 10-27, Hampton 5-15, Icenhour 4-15
A-E—Ligon 16-60, Grindstaff 9-15, Murphy 18, Cruz 1-4, Bromley 1-(-9)
Passing: JC—N. Arnold 18-35-2 243. A-E—Jeter 10-19-1 146
Receiving: JC—Greer 9-178, Icenhour 5-40, Gage 3-30, T. Arnold 1-(-5).
A-E—Ligon 6-75, Warren 3-71
Sacks: JC—Norris ½, Snyder ½. A-E—Wilson
Fumble Recoveries: Wilson 2
Interceptions: JC—Lane. A-E—Webb, Warren
Tackles (JC only, 5 or more) Norris 13, Osborne 13, Edes-King 10, Snyder 10, Lane 7, W. Kerley 6