October 31, 2018
By Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
The Beatles sang that Penny Lane was in their ears and minds in one of their classic hits songs during the 60’s. Johnson County’s Nathan Lane was in that and a whole lot more against Unicoi County on Friday before a large crowd inside of Gentry Stadium. Lane found the end zone five times helping Johnson County repeat as conference champions in their 35-12 derailing of the No.10 Blue Devils. Johnson County (9-1) and ranked No.5 in the latest AP Class 3A poll will now face Gatlinburg-Pittman (6-4) on Friday night in the first round of the TSSAA playoffs inside of Paul McEwen Stadium. The Highlanders were upset by Kingston 20-7 and finished fourth in District 2A. Lane rushed for 194 yards on 21 carries and also returned an interception for a touchdown for the second consecutive week. His play sparked the Longhorns who played their best all-around game of the year.
“Our kids were ready to play and prove themselves,” said JCHS’ head coach Don Kerley. “We have a special group of seniors on this team that has stepped up and provided leadership. What can you say about the way that Lane played and how Tyler Norris stood out on defense? We had some injuries, but we overcame them. Troy Arnold hung in there and played and did a great job at quarterback and Zack Eller made a good catch and played well in the secondary. Our line played good up front, and the defense did outstanding. Give credit to our players and my assistant coaches for all their hard work. We beat a good football team tonight.”
Longhorns draw first blood
Johnson County needed to make a statement, and they did so on both sides of the football. The defense forced Unicoi to punt after three plays failed to produce a first down then followed that up with a mammoth drive of their own. The Longhorns put together a 12-play, 67-yard drive that ended on Lane’s 18-yard touchdown run to put them up 6-0. The key plays were a pair of eight-yard runs by Stacy Greer and a 10-yard pass from Troy Arnold to Zack Eller on a key third down play. Their lead was extended to 14-0 only 52 seconds into the second quarter. Lane broke loose for a 38-yard touchdown run off the right guard then added the two-point conversion for a 14-0 advantage.
Back comes the Blue Devils
The Blue Devils had a tough time of getting on the board early but did manage to score a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter.
Brock Thompson’s 54-yard completion to Bret Strother set the stage for a Kody Lewis 10 yard touchdown run to get them on the board.
A second pass of 35 yards from Thompson to Strother on their next possession allowed Lewis to bulldoze his way into the end zone from the two-yard line with 35 seconds remaining in the half. The Devils missed a pair of extra points and trailed 14-12 at the half. Longhorns’ defense dominates second half Johnson County’s offense failed to score in the third quarter, but the defense was there to pick up the slack. Lane intercepted Thompson in Blue Devil territory and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown that upped the ante at 21-12.
Lane continued his stellar play in the fourth quarter. The Longhorns would add some icing on the victory cake in the fourth quarter. Lane carried four tacklers for a 13-yard gain down to the one then pounded it into the end zone for his fourth touchdown. His fifth touchdown came on a 9-yard run to make it 35-12 after Kimble kicked his third PAT in the game with 5:18 remaining.
“This is the best feeling in the world,” said Lane about the win. “Several people doubted that we could do it, but we proved all of them wrong. It’s the best that our team has played all year.”
Lane ended the night with 194 yards on 21 carries with 104 coming in the first half. His five touchdowns gave him 27 for the season.
Defensive whiz Tyler Norris made a strong statement for all-state honors that included 13 tackles, three for losses and two sacks. He said the plan was to keep them out of the end zone in the second half.
“We knew that Lewis and Strother were their go-to guys,” said Norris. “We weren’t about to let them beat us like they had some other team. It means a lot to come here and win the conference on their home field. Now we have to get ready to play next Friday in the playoffs.”
Zack Eller had a pair of catches for 50 yards including a 39 yarder on a third and long that kept a critical fourth-quarter drive alive.
Troy Arnold completed 2-of-5 passes for 50 yards. Curtis Lowe carried seven times for 55 yards while Stacy Greer collected 32 yards on eight carries. mWeston Throop ended the night with six tackles and deflected a couple of passes. Tyrone McFadden, Kimble and Lowe all had four tackles apiece. Lewis was held to only 75 yards on 23 carries. Thompson completed 5-of-15 passes for 102 yards. Strother caught three passes for 90 yards.
“I thought we had that slow start like we had early in the year,” said Unicoi County’s head coach Drew Rice. “We improved on that but got down and had a couple of turnovers. They’re a good football team and winning breeds winning. That’s a group of kids that won a championship last year, and they played like it.”
The victory was the second straight Region 1 3A championship under Kerley’s leadership. The Horns are now 10-0 in league play over the last two years and have won 19 of 20 regular season games.
Johnson Co. 6 8 7 14 –35
Unicoi Co. 0 12 0 0 –12
JC—Lane 18 run (run failed) 4:16
JC—Lane 38 run (Lane run) 11:12
UC—Lewis 10 run (kick failed) 8:04
UC—Lewis 2 run (kick failed) .35
JC—Lane 37 interception return (Kimble kick) 5:56
JC—Lane 1 run (Kimble kick) 6:46
JC—Lane 9 run (Kimble kick) 5:18
1st Downs 15 5
Rushing yard 42-290 30-79
Passes A/C/I 2-5-0 5-15-1
Passing Yards 50 101
Total Offense 340 180
Fumbles 1-0 1-1
Punts 3-27 3-38
Penalties 4-25 5-45
Rushing: JC— Lane 21-194, Lowe 7-55, Greer 8-32, Arnold 6-8. UC—Lewis 23-75, Thompson 5-(-6), Rest 2-11
Passing: JC—Arnold 2-5-1 50, Thompson 5-15-1 101
Receiving: JC—Eller 2-50. UC Strother 3-90, Lewis 2-11
Fumble Recoveries: None
Tackles (4 or more): Johnson County only—Norris 13, Throop 6, McFadden 4, Lowe 4, Kimble 4, Eller 3.