By Tim Chambers
BLOUNTVILLE—Like Stella, Johnson County found its groove on Thursday night against 5-A Sullivan Central. The Longhorns reeled off 39 unanswered points en route to its 46-20 victory over the Cougars on Bernie Webb Field.
It was a sigh of relief for the Horns who won their first game after three consecutive losses against state ranked Sullivan East, Hampton and Elizabethton. But things didn’t start well in this one.
Johnson County missed out on a touchdown to start the game, then fumbled on their third play from scrimmage. Central’s Carter Manis picked up the loose pigskin and rambled 26 yards for the score. On the very next play they recovered somewhat of an onside kick after the Longhorns failed to fall on the football.
That brought on a stern challenge from head coach Don Kerley to his team from the sidelines. From that point they played the lights out.
“I think our kids wanted to start off good and were a bit nervous,” said Kerley. “They came out wanting to prove something tonight. Central’s quarterback could play and their offensive line was big, but our defense played well and our kids played hard. They put a lot of people in the box so they weren’t really a free safety. Nathan did a good job of recognizing this and our receivers did a good job of running and catching the football. I thought our line did a good job allowing Nathan time to throw.”
It was quite a night for junior signal caller Nathan Arnold who was celebrating his 17th birthday. He completed 14-of-25 passes for 308 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran in one from 10 yards out.
“We started out really slow but we picked it up as the game went on,” said Arnold. “This showed us we need to be ready to play when the game starts. Our line played well and so did our receivers but we can be better. This was a good confidence booster going into our game with Chuckey-Doak next week. We won’t be overlooking them after last year.”
The Longhorns’ defense set the tone by stopping Central stone cold on their second possession. The perfect storm followed.
Arnold fired a 38-yard touchdown pass to Bud Icenhour who tight-roped his way for the final 10 yards. Jared Kimble’s PAT tied the game at 7-7.
The Longhorns would use their ground attack to score their next two TDs, aided by a roughing-the-passer call that kept the first drive alive.
Gage Hampton bulldozed his way in from the six to put JCHS up 13-6. He added another 6-yard plunge that gave Johnson County a 19-6 advantage with 9:18 remaining in the half.
“I thought we ran the ball well and that opened up our passing game,” said Hampton. “They all complimented one another plus our defense played well the whole game.”
Johnson County went for the knockoff punch just before the half ended and they did so with two huge plays.
Nathan Lane electrified the crowd with a 41-yard interception that extended their cushion at 25-6. Their next score would be the dagger.
Arnold’s 47-yard touchdown strike to Shane Greer upped the ante at 32-7 after Kimble’s extra point kick.
“He basically laid that one in my hands,” said Lane about his interception. “ I saw an open lane to the end zone. I just ran hard and made sure that I go there.”
The Cougars tried desperately to get back in the game to start the second half.
Quarterback Drew Robinette marched Central downfield on a 71-yard drive capped off by his 3-yard touchdown run that cut the deficit at 32-13. But the “cousin combo” was quick to answer.
Arnold connected with Greer on a 48-yard touchdown pass that pushed their lead back at 39-13. And they almost added another one just a few minutes later.
The Longhorns’ second unit reached the five-yard line on a strong run by Troy Arnold but a fumble on the next play ended the drive.
Central followed that up with a 10-play 93-yard drive that ended with Robinette scoring from 10 yards out. John Weaver added the PAT to close out the Cougars scoring.
Arnold capped off his memorable night by scoring from 10 yards out.
His play impressed Central’s first year head coach, Chris Steger.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week’s Tomahawk.