By Tim Chambers
Johnson County ranked No. 3 in Class 3A and Happy Valley ranked No. 9 in Class 2A gave smash-mouth football a new meaning by renewing an old rivalry on Friday night atop Warrior Hill. The Longhorns battled their tails off from start to finish and came out on top 14-7 in a game that wasn’t decided until the final play.
Johnson County (7-0) lost the statistical battle in total yards but won in areas where it mattered most. Special teams play and defense were the primary reason that the “Happy Horns” left Happy Valley with their regular season record still unblemished and they didn’t commit a turnover in the game.
“Hats off to Happy Valley because they are a very good football team that is well coached,” said Johnson County’s head coach Don Kerley. “We knew they were good and athletic and that showed, but our kids proved that they are a pretty good team too. It could have gone either way, but we made enough plays and things just fell our way. I can’t say enough about how well our defense and special teams played. We didn’t have a lot of yards on offense but we didn’t turn the ball over either. I felt like those things were the difference in the game.”
Kerley hit the nail on the head when summing up the contest. Happy Valley’s inability to take care of the football was the deciding factor in the outcome.
“You can’t commit penalties and turn the ball over like we did and expect to win against a good team like Johnson County,” said Jarrett. “We lost the turnover battle and didn’t convert when we had it in the red zone. That was the difference in the football game.”
The Longhorns scored first after a bad snap sailed over the Warriors punter and Johnson County took over at the 17-yard line.
Nathan Arnold’s 15-yard touchdown pass on third down to Shane Greer gave the Longhorns a 6-0 lead with 7:19 remaining in the first quarter but Happy Valley would quickly steal back the momentum.
The Warriors put together a 13-play, 60-yard drive that resulted in a 2-yard touchdown run by Dakota Cochran. Michael Harrah’s PAT put the Warriors in front 7-6 with 1:20 remaining in the period.
The Longhorns got great field position on their next possession thanks to Zack Eller’s 48-yard punt return but the offense failed to pick up a first down.
The Warriors regained possession at their own 43 and marched 54 yards before Johnson County’s defense changed the game. HV’s quarterback Brayden Sams scrambled for 39 yards on a third and 23 down to the six-yard line.
It was a touchdown saving tackle by Zack Eller that led to the game’s three biggest plays. Eller once again would factor.
Johnson County’s Tyler Norris grabbed a loose football in the air near the goal line thanks to a bone crushing hit by Jordan Edes-King on the Warrior running back. He then took it 98 yards for a touchdown. Not to be overlooked was the block he received from Eller at midfield that allowed him to go the distance.
“Jordan Edes-King made a big hit on the running back and I just took the ball from him,” said Norris. “I knew we needed a big play. Zack made a great block at midfield and I just took it from there to the house. I wasn’t going to get caught this time because we needed the score. It was a huge play in the game, but I had plenty of help along the way.”
Arnold then hit Bud Icenhour with the all important 2-point conversion pass giving the Horns a 14-7 advantage.
The game stayed that way through halftime and remained that way until the final horn. It was a night where both defenses dominated play in the second half.
The Warriors drove inside the red zone in the third quarter but a jarring tackle by Hayden Osborne and Eller stopped Happy Valley on downs at the 14-yard line.
“We came out ready to play and got fired up when they started saying stuff to us,” said Osborne. “This was one of our best games defensively. We didn’t give them a lot of anything after they got the first score.”
The Warriors were hit with two intentional grounding penalties in the fourth quarter and Sams was intercepted twice by Nathan Lane and Jimmy Bower that sealed the victory.
The Longhorns stayed undefeated despite their inability to produce 100 yards of total offense. Arnold completed 11-20 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. The Longhorns rushed 19 times for only 26 yards.
Sophomore Jared Kimble had a remarkable night on special teams. He punted four times for a 43-yard average including a 44-yarder that went out of bounds at the 1-yard line.
Norris was just as remarkable collecting 14 tackles in addition to his 98-yard fumble return. Osborne provided another banner game with 12 tackles including two for losses. R.J. Snyder added 10 stops. Josh Herman was a huge factor with eight tackles and a sack.
“We wanted to keep up the same intensity because they didn’t like to be hit,” said Herman. “I like Happy Valley off the field, but I like to beat them on the field. It felt great to come down here and get a win at their place. We did what we had to do and got the job done.”
Will Kerley contributed eight tackles and kept Sams from breaking a pair of long runs with a couple of nice open-field tackles.
“I didn’t expect us to win this way but I want to thank our coaches,” said Will Kerley. “We were prepared for everything they did. I also want to give God all the glory because he’s given us all a gift to play football. It felt good to come down here and get them at their place.”
Jordan Edes-King and Cameron Clawson provided seven tackles apiece. The win was especially sweet for Clawson.
“I can’t answer for anyone else but it sure was special for me to beat them,” said Clawson. “To defeat them and Hampton in the same year is huge for our football program. This was the game I wanted to play because I know most of these guys and grew up with them. It put a smile on my face to walk out of here with a victory. It feels great that we’re still undefeated.”
Nathan Lane chipped in with six tackles and an interception. Eller contributed six tackles, the block that sprang Norris and a 48-yard kickoff return.
Happy Valley’s offense had trouble finding the end zone.
Sams completed just 5-of-17 passes for 45 yards with two interceptions. He led the team in rushing with 75 yards on 15 carries.
“It’s tough any time you come to Happy Valley and play,” added Kerley. “They have some good athletes on that football team, but I’m proud of our kids for staying the course. We didn’t beat ourselves and we won the turnover battle. This was a playoff-type atmosphere against a state ranked opponent on the road. I’m proud of our kids for finding a way to come out on top.”
Johnson County will play its last regular season road game on Friday at North Greene. Kickoff is set for 7:30 pm.
Johnson County 14-7
Johnson County 6 8 0 0 — 14
Happy Valley 7 0 0 0 — 7
JC—Greer 15 pass from N. Arnold (kick failed) 7:19
HV—Cochran 2 run (Harrah kick) 1:20
JC—Norris 98 fumble return (N. Arnold pass to Icenhour) 6:27
Team Stats JC HV
1st Downs JC 5 HV 11
Rushing yards JC 19-26 HV 45-175
Passes A/C/I JC 11-20-0 HV 5-17-2
Passing Yards JC 70 HV 45
Total Offense JC 96 HV 220
Fumbles JC 0-0 HV 1-1
Punts JC 4-42 HV 5-17
Penalties JC 2-15 HV 5-45
Rushing: JC— Hampton 9-20, N. Arnold 5-3, Icenhour 1-3, T. Arnold 2-0. HV—Sams 15-75, Campbell 9-60, Tittle 14-35, Cochran 6-12, Surcey 1-1.
Passing: JC—N. Arnold 11-20-0 70,l Kimble 0-1-0 0. HV—Sams 5-17-2 45
Receiving: JC—Hampton 4-21, Greer 2-25, Icenhour 3-15, T. Arnold 2-1. HV—Surcey 2-31, Norman 1-12, Hyatt 1-2, Phillips 1-0
Sacks: JC—Herman, HV—Fleenor
Fumble Recoveries: Norris
Interceptions: JC—Lane, Bower
Tackles (6 or more): Johnson County only, Norris 14, Osborne 12, Snyder 10, Herman 8, W. Kerley 8, Clawson 7, Edes-King 7, Lane 6, Eller 6.