By Tim Chambers
KODAK—General George S. Patton once said that success is how high you bounce when you hit rock bottom. Based on that theory, Johnson County shot itself into orbit by beating undefeated and conference co-leader Northview Academy on Thursday after losing to cellar dweller West Greene last Friday.
The Longhorns rallied from a 14-0 deficit to earn a hard fought 34-24 road victory over the Cougars that kept them in the hunt to host a first round playoff game.
It was a 180-degree turnaround from last week’s mud bowl and Homecoming affair. This time there were no distractions.
They turned the home of Dollywood into “Splash Country” with a steady diet of dive plays throughout the game.
“We just went back to our goals this year,” said JCHS head coach Don Kerley. “We wanted to come out and play hard and not look at our record. The loss to West Greene hurt, but we still can control our playoff destiny. I’m proud of the way we bounced back and I’m proud of our senior leaders. I thought we outplayed them after we got down by 14 points. Gage did great, the line played well and our defense stepped up and did the job. Our whole team stepped up and played well. We had a lot riding on this one.”
It was rough sledding for Johnson County in the early going. The Cougars would score on the third play of the game on a busted play.
Justin Howard found a large gap up the gut and sprinted 64 yards for a touchdown. Josh Gomez added the PAT for a 7-0 lead.
It got worse when Northview’s Logan McMillan picked off a pass that led to their second score.
Noah Nelson found the end zone with 6:26 remaining, allowing the Cougars to take a 14-0 first quarter lead after Gomez’ PAT.
Unlike last week the Longhorns fought back with a vengeance.
They began with a 16-play, 65-yard drive that ate up nearly eight minutes off the clock.
The key play of the drive was a 16-yard fourth-down completion from Nathan Arnold to Shane Greer that got them down to the 16. Arnold appeared to be sacked, but somehow escaped, hitting Greer who managed to stay in bounds with a circus catch.
Arnold capped off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge with 10:33 showing in the second quarter. Jared Kimble’s PAT cut the deficit in half at 14-7.
“Shane made a great catch to keep us going, and the line did a good job of allowing me to score,” said Arnold. “We had to win this game or our season was over. Last week we were all-around awful and I’ll take all the blame for that. This week was different emotional wise and physical wise. Everybody did a great job of picking one another up. We beat a great team out there, but I hate it for their quarterback who got hurt. He’s a really good player that makes them go, but we lost Dakota (Wright) for the season and he would have made a difference too.”
The momentum didn’t last long because Northview was quick to seize it back. Howard hooked up with Haiden McGee for a 39-yard touchdown pass which allowed the Cougars to take a 21-7 advantage. But the Steers would come charging back with their second score just before the half ended.
A steady diet of Gage Hampton on the ground would end with his 9-yard touchdown jaunt with 23 seconds left before intermission. Kimble added the point after that left them trailing 21-14 at the half.
“I got a little winded at times but I had to push through and stay in the game to help my team win,” said Hampton who amassed 183 yards on 35 carries and three touchdowns. “We studied their film really good all week and felt like we could run on them. This puts us the No. 2 team as long as we can win out. Hopefully we will, but it’s one game at a time from here on out. It starts with Pigeon Forge next week. We can’t be looking past anyone.”
Bad luck would plague the Horns to start the third quarter.
Their first drive ended with a fumble that was recovered by Northview’s James Turner, but their defense would rise to the occasion.
They stuffed the Cougars on a pair of runs inside the five, forcing them to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Gomez. Howard was also injured on the play and never returned after rushing for 184 yards and passing for 106.
It was all Johnson County from that point.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week’s Tomahawk.