October 31, 2018
By Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
The Longhorns were riding an eight-game winning streak going into their game with Unicoi County, yet many prognosticators in the media were picking them to lose against the home standing Blue Devils. I’ve often written that games are won on the field and not in the local newspapers, and the Horns proved my point on Friday. The 2018 football season has been a fun roller coaster ride with a whole lot of ups and very few downs. Johnson County struggled some at times especially in their one-point loss to Hampton and the first half in their game at Sullivan Central. The Longhorns trailed 13-0 at halftime to the Cougars but rallied to score 34 second-half points and win 34-27 over a determined Central squad. That game was the defining moment about this football team. The Horns don’t look great at times, but they do not lack in heart. This team never quits.
I was asked to compare the 2017 team that went 11-1 and 10-0 during the regular season to this year’s 9-1 squad. The answer was simple.
Both teams will be remembered as two of the most successful ones to ever wear a Longhorn uniform. Nothing else needs to be said.
The 2018 Horns rose to the occasion when their backs were against the wall. It started at Cloudland in their 14-8 win over the No. 7 ranked Highlanders in Class 1A. It continued on Friday before a large crowd inside of Gentry Stadium.
Unicoi County hadn’t won a conference championship since 1989, so the Blue Devils nation was hungry for a victory. They came into the game ranked No. 10 in Class 3A for the first times in nearly three decades. Little did they know that the Longhorns too were licking their chops and “steer meat” wasn’t about to be served up to the Devils. The Longhorns started fast jumping on top 14-0 in the early going. The Blue Devils bounced back to cut the lead at 14-12 at the half. The next 24 minutes would decide the outcome. That’s when Johnson County showed its toughness.
Quarterback Troy Arnold was fighting through the pain of some bruised ribs that he encountered after a hit during the first half. The senior signal-caller wasn’t about to leave the game. He was perfect on a 39-yard pass to Zack Eller that allowed Johnson County to keep a scoring drive alive on third and long. It helped produce a 1-yard touchdown run by Nathan Lane to put them up 28-12.
“The injury was tough, but the decision to stay in the game was easy,” said Arnold. “I wasn’t about to come out of this game, especially not tonight. We wanted this game bad, and we weren’t about to leave here without a win.”
Eller spoke about the toughness of his quarterback. They’ve been playing together since youth league.
“His toughness defines this team,” said Eller. “All Troy does is make plays. We ran a slat on that play, and I had to get open. Troy made a good throw, and we got the first down and later scored. It was good to prove all the naysayers wrong. This win was very special because very few thought we could repeat as conference champs. We had something to prove.”
They also showed their toughness on Lane’s one-yard touchdown run. He followed the lead block of Christian Krupsky who drove his defender into the end zone.
“We wanted to run the ball right at them,” said Krupsky. “All our backs ran hard tonight, and we did open up some holes. We heard how good they ran the football, but we wanted to show that we could too. I believe we outdid them tonight.”
Krupsky was correct on his assessment. The Longhorns rushed 42 times for 290 yards. Unicoi was held to 79 yards rushing on 30 carries.
Lane had 194 of Johnson County’s total. Unicoi’s Cody Lewis was held to 75 yards after going for over 300 in last week’s win. The Blue Devils had very little success throwing the football except for two long completions to Brett Strother that totaled 89 of their 102 yards passing. Some of that was due to the play of Tyler Norris and Weston Throop. Norris was his usually self-collecting 13 tackles, three for losses and two sacks. Throop added six tackles and deflected three passes. The senior defensive end didn’t play football last year. His addition has been a pleasant surprise.
“I just wanted to show my coaches and teammates that I could do it,” said Throop about his performance. “I was mad at myself for not playing last year but winning the conference this year has made it special for me.”
Tyler Phillips, like Throop, didn’t play last year but found his way into the starting lineup on defense. He summed the win up best.
“This was monumental to win this type of game for our school and community with your best friends surrounding you,” said Phillips. “It’s something that we’ll always remember. Every Longhorn that was here tonight can enjoy this one just like they did last year.”