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Highlanders hold off Longhorns

Norris tackling machine

November 7, 2018

Gatlinburg-Pittman 36, Johnson County 33

By Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
[email protected]

Johnson County’s storybook season came to a close on Friday in a game that will go down as one of the best playoff games ever. Gatlinburg-Pittman scored the winning touchdown with 1:50 remaining to take a hard-fought 36-33 victory in the first round of the State 3A playoffs. The Highlanders (7-4) will now play at Austin-East on Friday who defeated Chuckey-Doak 61-23. Johnson County’s banner year ended with a 9-2 record.

The Longhorns appeared to be headed for a win when Troy Arnold hooked up with Zack Eller on a 75-yard touchdown pass with 4:50 showing before the game’s end. The Highlanders got a 30-yard touchdown run by quarterback John Shults with just under two minutes remaining that dampened the hopes of second straight year home playoff win.

The game featured big-time offensive scoring plays by the Longhorns versus long drives and smash mouth football at its best by the Highlanders.  Johnson County’s head coach Don Kerley felt like G-P’s size was the difference.

“We played a good team, but we made a few more mistakes than we needed to,” said Kerley. “Their size hurt us up front. They were controlling the football, and our defense was out there way too long. I’m proud of our seniors, and we’ve got some good kids that gave it their best. It was a good game that could have gone either way. We’ve won some like this over the past two seasons. The ball just didn’t bounce our way tonight.”

See-saw first half with three lead changes
Johnson County scored the game’s only points in the first quarter with their first of five mammoth scoring plays. Troy Arnold fired a strike to Nathan Lane who took it 87 yards for a touchdown. Jared Kimble added the PAT for a 7-0 lead at the 6:45 mark. Gatlinburg-Pittman began a 10-play, 67-yard drive late in the first quarter that ended with a one-yard touchdown run by Pierce Hammonds to start the second frame. The Longhorns committed their first of several costly encroachment infractions by jumping offside’s on the PAT. The Highlanders them elected to go for two and converted giving them an 8-7 advantage. Their lead didn’t last long because Johnson County would erase it just seconds later.

Arnold hooked up with freshman Corie Neely over the middle for a 70-yard touchdown pass to put the Horns up 14-8 after Kimble’s PAT. The Longhorn defense played well, but a couple more off-sides penalties allowed G-P to keep its final drive alive late in the first half. They took the lead in the final minute on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Shults to Hammonds and a successful PAT. The Highlanders led 15-14 at the half. One key factor in the game was Johnson County’s inability to run the football. They ran only 12 offensive plays in the first half compared to G-P’s 37. The Highlanders had the football for over 18 minutes and dominated time of possession. It would wear down the Horns in the final quarter when they needed a key stop.

The offensive explosion by both teams
Both teams lit up the scoreboard in the third quarter. Arnold hooked up with Kimble on a 70-yard touchdown pass to begin the third quarter, but the Highlanders answered to blot out a 20-15 deficit. Akey scored on a 30-yard run to put the Highlanders back in front 22-20 on Bryson Flynn’s point after. They extended it to 29-20 thanks to Ethan Estabrook’s 27-yard interception return at the 6:40 mark. The Highlanders were going for the knock-off punch, but Lane made sure it didn’t land. The senior speedster took the ensuing kickoff back 78 yards for his second touchdown of the game to cut the deficit at 29-27 before their unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt. Lane ended the year with 30 touchdowns and had three catches in the game for 91 yards along with his 78 yard TD kickoff return.  He felt like time-of-possession was the difference.

“It seemed like they had the football the entire game,” said Lane. “I wish we had run the ball more because our defense stayed out on the field too long. We had a lot of big plays, but the defense got tired near the end. I think we showed a lot of doubters what our team was made of. We lost a ton of players off last year’s squad, but we had some juniors who did a lot of good stuff that helped them go undefeated. We won 19 of 20 regular season games and hosted two first-round playoff ones. No other senior class has ever done that.”

The Longhorns would take their last lead of the game on Eller’s 75 yard TD reception with less than five minutes remaining. He said their size and the duel running back threats caused them lots of problems.

“We left too much time on the clock after I scored,” said Eller. “They had two good backs, and the quarterback could run. They got behind that big offensive line and ran it right at us. We did a lot of good things against them but couldn’t get the stop we needed to get the win. I’m disappointed with the loss but happy that we won another conference championship.”

G-P scored the game-winner with 1:50 remaining and the Horns couldn’t move the football on their final possession.

Arnold Delivers
Longhorns quarterback Troy Arnold had his best game of the season despite playing with bruised ribs from last week. He completed seven passes for 300 yards and four touchdowns. He said the team laid it all on the line.

“I felt like we played well enough to win but didn’t get the result that we wanted,” said Arnold. “They have a really good team, but we hung in there with them and could have won. Their size helped them a lot but other than that I think we played well. This has been a special year that our seniors will always remember. We brought back that winning tradition.”

Kimble, who is expected to be one of the key cogs next year played like it against the Highlanders. He ended the night with 64 receiving yards and
eight tackles.

Norris shines in his final game as a Longhorn
Johnson County’s offensive output didn’t overshadow the defensive one they got from their All-State linebacker candidate.  Tyler Norris racked up a game-high 21 tackles, four that went for losses and one sack. Tyrone McFadden and Kimble added eight each. Stacy Greer collected six tackles and tallied two pass blocks. Weston Throop, Ethan Bower, Eller, and Lane got in on five tackles apiece. Kerley gave his team a final praise.

“I’m thankful for my coaches and for all the kids who were dedicated and sacrificed. We had a great group of seniors who have won 19 out of 20 regular season games in two years. They don’t have anything  to be ashamed of. They played as hard as they  could till the end.”

State 3A Playoffs
Johnson County

0 15 14 7 – 36
Johnson County
7 7 13 6 – 33

Scoring Summary

1st Quarter
JC—Lane 87 pass from Arnold (Kimble kick 7-0) 6:45

2nd Quarter
GP—Hammonds 1 run (Akey run) 11:53
JC—C. Neely 70 pass from Arnold (Kimble kick) 11:29
GP—Hammonds 24 pass from Shults (Flynn kick) .41

3rd Quarter
JC—Kimble 70 pass from Arnold (pass failed) 11:20
GP—Akey 30 run (Flynn kick) 8:18
GP—Estabrook 28 interception return (Flynn kick) 6:40
JC—Lane 78 kickoff return (Kimble kick) 6:25

4th Quarter
JC—Eller 75 pass from Arnold (run failed) 4:50
GP—Shults 31 run (Flynn kick) 1:50

Team Stats
1st Downs 16 8
Rushing yard 52-225 13-45
Passes A/C/I 6-18-0 7-16-1
Passing Yards 95 300
Total Offense 320 345
Fumbles 1-0 1-0
Punts 4-27 3-30
Penalties 4-35 11-65

Rushing: JC— Lane 4-10, Greer 2-3, Lowe 1-1, Arnold 5-30. GP—Akey 28-108, Hammonds 19-65, Shults 5-52
Passing: JC—Arnold 7-15-1 300, Lane 0-1-1 0. GP—Shults 6-18-0 95
Receiving: JC—Lane 3-91, Kimble 2-64, Eller 1-75, C. Neely 1-70.
GP—Hammonds 2-43, Stinnett 3-28, Estabrook 1-24.
Sacks: JC—Norris
Fumble Recoveries: None
Interceptions: GP—Estabrook
Tackles 5 or more): Johnson County only—Norris 21, McFadden 8, Kimble 8,
Greer 6, Lane 5, Eller 5, Throop 5, Bower 5.
GP—Howard 6, Brackins 5.