By Tim Chambers
It’s been 29 years since Johnson County has hosted a first round playoff game but the long wait of nearly three decades is over. The Longhorns earned that right by finishing with a perfect 10-0 record for the first time in school history.
They’ll put all that on the line on Friday against Northview Academy (5-5) from Kodak, Tennessee and the Cougars are expected to be a tough foe.
Northview knocked off Chuckey-Doak 35-0 in their season opener, a team that Johnson County narrowly defeated 14-13. They also have wins over Sullivan North 42-14, Oliver Springs 35-7, Pigeon Forge 28-20 and Scott County 35-8.
Four of their losses have been to ranked teams.
There were defeated by Alcoa 38-7, Austin East 41-24, Kingston 34-20 and 4A Loudon 43-35.
They lost to Gatlinburg-Pittman 35-18, a team that Cloudland defeated 46-42 in their season opener.
The Cougars are no strangers to Johnson County. The Longhorns defeated them 34-24 on the road last season and 41-21 at home in 2015.
Head coach Don Kerley is well aware of their opponent. He touched on what they needed to do in order to reach the second round.
“We’ve had a lot of success because we’ve eliminated our turnovers from the past two seasons,” said Kerley. “We’ll need our seniors to step up and play well and we have to take care of the football. We’ve not given up a lot of big plays and they’re a team that can make them. Their quarterback is a really strong player and they’ve got three or four kids who are athletic and can hurt you. They led Austin East the entire game until the fourth quarter. They beat a good Sullivan North team pretty bad. We definitely need to play well to come out with a win.”
The Cougars’ offense is built around senior quarterback Justin Howard.
The three-year starter has completed 92-of-161 passes for 1458 yards and 13 touchdowns. He’s also rushed 91 times for 475 yards.
Robert Grindstaff (5’10”, 190, Sr.) is the leading rusher with 520 yards on 120 carries. He leads the team in scoring with 11 touchdowns.
The Cougars have a pair of talented receivers.
Zeb Petty is the go-to guy with 39 catches for 613 yards and three scores. Caleb Cruz has 18 catches for 488 yards and six touchdowns.
Joshua Gomez kicked one field goal and is 28-32 on extra points.
Northview has been successful on the road. They are 4-1 away and 1-4 at home.
“Some of those losses at home were to very good teams,” added Kerley. “That league they play is probably the toughest one in the state in 3A.”
The Longhorns have their arsenal of big play guys too.
Senior quarterback Nathan Arnold has completed 118-of-180 passes for 1684 yards and 17 touchdowns. They’ll need a big performance from him.
Gage Hampton leads the team in rushing with 515 yards and has scored 104 points. Shane Greer is the top receiver with 640 yards and leads the team in receptions. Bud Icenhour has compiled over 600 all purpose yards.
The defense is anchored by Hayden Osborne whose 132 tackles is near the top in East Tennessee. Tyler Norris has logged 112 stops. R.J. Snyder and Jordan Edes-King have compiled 84 and 75 tackles respectively.
Nathan Lane with 6 interceptions and Zack Eller with 5 picks rank among the top leaders in East Tennessee.
Northview has played varsity football for only three seasons and has made the playoffs the last two. Johnson County will be making its fourth trip in five years trip after missing out in 2016.
A capacity crowd is expected to be on hand inside of Paul McEwen Stadium for Friday’s showdown. Johnson County would play the winner of Austin East and Unicoi County at home next Friday if they defeat Northview.
All playoff games begin at 7:00 pm. Fans are urged to arrive early well before the kickoff.