By Tim Chambers
It’s a proven fact that Sullivan East has been a thorn in Johnson County’s side for three straight seasons. They are hoping that the pain ends on Thursday.
Nearly 20 seniors will run onto Harold Arnold Field and none have ever experienced a win against the Patriots. Last year they hammered the Horns 34-7 after winning 21-0 in 2015. They also prevailed 19-8 in 2014, Don Kerley’s first year as head coach.
Johnson County’s last win over East was in 2013, a 49-13 victory at the Patriot Pasture. They would love nothing more than to duplicate that on Friday.
East graduated standout players Aaron Frye, Gunner Griffith and Matt Nixon out of the backfield. Two of last year’s starters including Griffith are now playing at Emory & Henry.
Kerley loves the fact that Nixon and Frye are no longer there. The Pats finished 9-2 last season, the second best record in school history.
“I think both teams will be up for the game,” said Kerley. “I believe that it will come down to turnovers and penalties and whoever takes care of the football. We scrimmage North to prepare for East and Friday’s jamboree under the lights against Cloudland helped us also. They have a lot of size up front, but losing Nixon took away some speed. I know they still have some pretty good athletes. We need to play well to beat them.”
The Pats lost nine starters on offense but do return defensive end Kaleb Bare (6’2, 245, Sr.) who is getting looks from several colleges.
Johnson County will counter with quarterback Nathan Arnold who threw for nearly 1600 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. He also completed 59 percent of his passes.
Shane Greer was on the receiving end for 40 of those and 800 plus yards. Gage Hampton ran for over 600 yards. All three are pumped and ready to go.
“It would mean a lot to the seniors if we could beat East,” said Hampton. “We don’t want to leave here getting beat by them every year.”
The Longhorns will also feature Bud Icenhour who could be the top athlete on the team. He and Zack Eller will definitely be threats and both have speed to burn along with all purpose back Caden Arnold.
Troy Arnold will get the nod at fullback. He scored on a 5-yard run against Cloudland in the jamboree.
Tristan Dishman and Nate Shepherd will anchor the offensive line.
Johnson County is led by senior linebacker Hayden Osborne on defense. He logged nearly 100 tackles last season, 14 for losses.
Jordan Edes and Cameron Clawson give the Longhorns some valuable experience at defensive end. RJ Snyder and Tyler Norris give the Horns speed to burn at the linebacker positions in addition to Osborne. Josh Herman, Will Kerley and Nathan Lane will shore up the defensive backfield in addition to Icenhour who could double on both sides of the ball.
The Horns will need some solid special teams play. Jared Kimble (kicker) and Eller return as starters. Kimble averaged nearly 39 yards per punt last year while Eller recorded 30 yards per kickoff return.
“We played over 25 people at Cloudland and we’ll play a lot of them against East,” added Kerley. “Our kids have worked hard in the offseason and I believe it will show on Thursday. They know what we have to do to win.”
Game time is set for 7:30 inside of Paul McEwen Stadium.