October 31, 2018
By Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
It’s hard to vision a first-round playoff game against an opponent better than the No. 10 team in Class 3A and the No. 7 team in Class 1A, but that’s what Johnson County is up against on Friday. The No. 1 seed Longhorns in Region 1-3A will square off with Gatlinburg-Pittman, the No. 4 team out of Region 2-3A. Kickoff is set to begin at 7:00 PM. The Highlanders come into the game with a record of 6-4, but three of their losses have come to state-ranked teams. They were beaten by Oneida 33-14, Alcoa 56-0 and Austin East 32-21. Their fourth loss came at Kingston on Friday where they were upset by the Yellow Jackets 20-7. Head coach Don Kerley is well of G-P’s talent. He touched on some of their strengths.
“They are the biggest team that we’ve played up front,” said Kerley. “They play a lot of kids like us to wearing them down might not be a factor like it has been in some games for us this year.”
Kingston dominated time of possession in the first half. Their 10-play, 72-yard scoring drive ate up almost eight minutes off the clock.
Gatlinburg-Pittman had their punter slip in the second quarter which gave Kingston excellent field possession at the 35. Another touchdown gave them a 13-0 halftime lead. Their final score came on a 53-yard run after G-P received a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty that kept their drive alive, which gave the home team a 20-0 advantage. G-P failed to score on two long drives during the third quarter. They scored their only touchdown late in the fourth quarter on a one-yard run by Bryce Akey. But the Highlanders shouldn’t be taken for granted. They defeated Cloudland 20-8 in their season opener then topped Hampton on the road 34-21 in Week 4. They also have plenty capable players on the roster.
“G-P is well coached, and they sure don’t look like a four seed,” added Kerley. “They would probably be a one seed in most Regions. Their quarterback is really good, and they have a good running back. They have a tackle with great size that was a preseason All-State selection. We will have to play our best to win. We must limit our turnovers and not let them control the football. We need for all our kids to step up and play well. G-P will be up for us.”
Junior quarterback J.D. Shults threw for more than 1800 yards and 21 touchdowns during his sophomore season. Akey currently leads the Highlanders in rushing with over 800 yards and 15 touchdowns. Pierce Hammonds is a significant play threat who will team up with Akey in the backfield. Carlitos Lopez is the team’s leading receiver. The Highlanders will feature a big offensive line led by Bo Rowland (6’5, 291) senior. The Highlanders are averaging nearly 25 points per contest while the defense is allowing over 19 per outing. They have outscored their opponents 246-196.
The Longhorns are riding an eight-game winning streak including back-to-back wins over playoff-bound Cloudland and Unicoi County in their last two games. The Highlanders will try and bottle up Nathan Lane who has scored 27 touchdowns and rushed for 938 yards on 105 carries. They’ll also need to finalize a way to block Tyler Norris who is currently the leading tackler in Northeast Tennessee with 160.
The Longhorns hope to have back freshman tackle John Stout who had an outstanding game against Unicoi County before leaving late in the game with a leg injury. Zack Eller is averaging over 20 yards per catch and leads the team in receiving. Kickoff is set to begin 30 minutes earlier than regular season games.
Game time will be at 7 pm.