By Tim Chambers
Johnson County was the heavy favorite to beat Cloudland on Friday according to most sports prognosticators, but oh were they all proven wrong.
The Highlanders took the Longhorns to the woodshed by administering a 46-0 blow on a raining night at Harold Arnold Field.
It was a sweet win for the Blue and Gold, who avenged last year’s 14-7 loss to the Horns on Orr Field thanks to a last-minute interception that was returned for a 55-yard touchdown by Nathan Lane.
Gone were Lane and his heroics and also gone were the 20 tackles rang up by linebacker Tyler Norris.
Also gone were the fight, confidence, and toughness that the Horns had played with over the past two seasons. Head coach Don Kerley hit the nail on the head when trying to sum up the game.
“They came out and hit us in the mouth, and we didn’t respond,” said Kerley. “That was the bottom line because they outplayed us. We didn’t have them ready, and that’s pretty much it. We’ve got a big game here on Friday so we’ll try this week to regroup. But hats off to them because they were ready to play and we weren’t. We got beat fundamentally all night long. There’s nothing else you can say about it.”
The game was over by halftime, as Cloudland scored on nearly every possession in the first half, starting with taking the ball 53 yards on their opening drive that took nine plays.
Hunter Blair’s 15-yard TD run made it 8-0 after Seth Birchfield’s 2-point conversion run.
The Highlanders’ defense stuffed Johnson County on two straight possessions and immediately found its way into the end zone for a second time.
Birchfield’s 1-yard run made it 14-0 with 11:57 remaining in the second quarter.
Cloudland continued its stingy defensive with one of two interceptions on the night. Tristan Lacy picked off a Stacy Greer pass that hit a Longhorn’s receiver in the hands and returned it to the Highlanders’ 32-yard line.
Hunter Shell fired a perfect strike to Bentley Gilbert on the very next play that resulted in a 32-yard touchdown pass. Lacy added the 2-point conversion for a 22-0 lead.
The Highlanders would get on the board one more time before the half ended. Colin Morgan intercepted another pass by Greer, giving the Landers great field position once again.
Shell would hook up with Gilbert for a second time for a 16-yard touchdown pass that allowed the Highlanders to lead 30-0 at halftime.
Any thoughts of a Johnson County comeback were quickly erased early in the third quarter. The game was a blur over the final two quarters after Lacy scored on a 30-yard run, and Blair added the conversion to make it 38-0.
The clock ran continuously from 7:15 in the third quarter until the game was over. Only one time did the Longhorns threatened to score.
The Highlanders’ final points came on n a 13-yard touchdown run by Lacy with 9:54 remaining in the game. Shell threw to Gilbert for the 2-point conversion for a whooping 46-0 lead.
Johnson County drove the ball on their final possession to the 1-yard line, but Highlanders’ defense stopped them cold as time ran out. Cloudland preserved the shutout by running their defensive starters back onto the field for the final play of the game.
The Highlanders are now 3-1 since head coach Scott Potter took over after week five. His defense limited the Horns to only 36 yards of total offense in the first half, and they didn’t have a first down in the second half until 5:01 to go in the game.
Lacy had a big night with 101 yards rushing on ten carries in addition to his two touchdowns. Birchfield rushed for 97 yards on 19 carries.
The Highlanders’ ground game churned out 247 yards on 42 carries.
Gilbert had two receptions for 48 yards and scored two touchdowns. Shell completed 3-of-6 passes for 61 yards and two scores.
Jed Childress led the defense with ten tackles. Morgan added seven stops from his middle linebacker position.
Curtis Lowe and Stacy Greer led Johnson County’s ground game with 56 and 50 yards, respectively.
Joseph Gambill topped the defense with seven tackles and a sack, while Jia Webster, Ethan Icenhour, Corie Neely, Colt Moody, and Logan Gilley all added six apiece.
The Longhorns now 4-5 overall will play at home on Friday night versus Unicoi County for the No. 2 seed in District 1 3A. A win would allow them to play another first-round playoff game at home against Gatlinburg-Pittman. A loss would send them on the road to Austin East the following week.
Cloudland 4-5 will travel to Sullivan North on Friday. They face Harriman in the first round of the playoffs in Roan Mountain on Orr Field.
Cloudland 8 22 8 8 -46
Johnson Co. 0 0 0 0 -0