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Highlanders outplay Longhorns on JCHS home field

The Longhorns had their hands full against the undefeated Cloudland Highlanders Friday night. The boys from Roan Mountain took the initiative, scoring a touchdown within the first few minutes of the game. Combining a skilled quarterback with a mix of talented running backs and receivers, the Highlanders were more than ready to prove they could overcome the slump they’ve been in the past few years.
To their credit, the Longhorns had an equally strong first quarter, and kept within winning range all the way through the first half. Unfortunately, a couple of missed opportunities right at the goal line proved very costly, as head coach Mike Atwood was keen to point out. “When we turned the ball over there, it just killed us,” Atwood said. “They came down to score on us, jump on us. I just don’t have any answers for this one. We had two fourth and ones and didn’t get either one of them. That’s a gut check time and they wanted it more than we did. We ran our best play, had our best player run the ball, but they stopped us both times. They just outplayed us.”
Despite these two challenging short falls, Johnson County still had several moments where they did very well. Senior Patrick South led the team to its first and only touchdown of the night, answering Cloudland’s initial score, but coming in one point behind after the extra point kick verged to the left. South had already made another huge play in an earlier possession, seizing a big break to gain 34 yards. Regrettably, that push was cut short as the Longhorns faced the first of their near misses right at the goal line, ultimately turning it over on downs.
Kenneth Brown made a key recovery on a fumble to get the ball back into Johnson County’s hands and with a couple of stunning catches from receiver Greg Roark, the Longhorns were finally able to take it to the end zone. Starting off 6-7, it was anybody’s game coming into the second quarter, but once again Cloudland made a key play that put them in a scoring position. Relying on their passing game, the Highlanders quickly moved down field to make their second touchdown with nine minutes until the half. It was Cloudland’s turn to miss the kick, leaving the score 6-13, but this only added more pressure on Johnson County’s offense.

Jordan Grubb took over on the carry, piling up three back to back first downs, with a huge pass completion to Seth Billingsley acting as icing on the cake. However even this rapid drive didn’t last. Once again Johnson County was staring down the goal line, only to be thwarted by an extremely determined Highlander defense. “We started out pretty good,” Coach Atwood said. “We drove the ball well and did what we wanted to do, but then we started making a few mistakes. When you make mistakes running the offense we do, we just don’t have anybody that’s going to break a long play. They were playing deep but they weren’t going to let us get anything deep.”
The clock had worn down enough before the half so that Cloudland didn’t quite have time to get on the scoreboard again. Yet after once again taking the ball on downs, the Highlanders were still able to get in a good enough position to push it to the end zone by the beginning of the third. At 26-6 things were starting to look bleak for Johnson County, but a fumble just after taking possession proved to be a critical blow to the Longhorn’s momentum.
Midway through the quarter the Highlanders were able to throw a passing touchdown and from that point on things just got worse for the home team. Eventually quarterback Warren Kerley had to come out of the game because of an arm injury that was severely impeding his ability to throw, but even with their opponents clearly in trouble, Cloudland continued to press their advantage.
By the fourth quarter the score had changed to 40-6 and it was obvious that much of the earlier energy had left Johnson County’s players. Regardless the Longhorns played on with Justin Pardue taking up the reins as quarterback, making a couple of strong plays to Kevin Dempsey as receiver.
Unfortunately, even this buildup ended on a sour note as Cloudland made a big late game interception that signified the real final end to the night.
Obviously disappointed with the loss, Coach Mike Atwood attributed the defeat not so much to a lack of effort on the part of Johnson County’s players but to the raw talent of Cloudland. “I think we just can’t deal with speed and they were faster than us,” Atwood said.  “The two running backs they had were good, very tough runners. They were just a little bit faster than us and we got whipped in all phases of the game. Their quarterback was great. He was the one who ran it. He was their key. They had a great quarterback and he won the game for them. They just out played us. I don’t really have any answers.”