By Tim Chambers
Claiborne County’s three-hour bus ride from Tazewell to Mountain City must have seemed like an eternity going back home on Friday night after being dealt a 33-6 defeat by Johnson County.
The Longhorns assured themselves another playoff berth with the victory and still remain in the hunt to host a first-round playoff game.
A large mass of fans gathered on the home side of the field to cheer on the Horns, including the 1978 Longhorns, who were honored before the game for winning the Watauga Conference Championship.
Natalie Winters was crowned the 2019 homecoming queen.
Lowe enjoys his best game as a Longhorn
The Longhorns turned to fullback Curtis Lowe to try and pick up the slack for senior running back Jared Kimble, who was lost for the season two weeks ago at West Greene, and he didn’t disappoint.
Lowe carried the ball 21 times for 106 yards and scored four touchdowns, his best game as a Longhorn.
“I thought Curtis had a huge game running the football,” said Johnson County’s head coach Don Kerley. “I felt like all our kids came out ready to play, especially the defense. They were averaging 34 points per game, and we didn’t give them anything. Michael Oxentine, Jia Webster, and Colt Moody played well on defense, and I thought Lucas Phillips had two big catches. This was a really good win for us, and I’m proud of the kids for the way they bounced back after last week’s loss.”
Kerley was correct in his assessment of Lowe.
He set the tone for the game by rushing for 60 yards on Johnson County’s first scoring drive that including a 9-yard touchdown run with 55 seconds remaining in the first quarter to give the Horns an 8-0 advantage.
Johnson County scored first when Jia Webster tackled Claiborne County’s quarterback Eli Stone in the end zone for a safety with some help from Danny Medley. This came after the Horns had a first and goal on the 2 yards line but turned it over on their first drive.
Stacy Greer threw a perfect 37-yard pass to Lucas Phillips, who got knocked out of bounds at the nine. They had the ball on the 2-yard line but elected to go from the shotgun and were thrown for a loss on a running play, then were intercepted two plays later, allowing the Bulldogs to dodge a bullet.
Longhorns capitalize on Bulldog’s mistakes
Johnson County shot themselves in the foot twice in the first half, but
Claiborne County would somehow find a way to return the favor with a turnover of their own.
Greer hit Corie Neely with a nice 15-yard pass down to the 4-yard line, but a bad snap on the next play ended that scoring threat. Claiborne would drive the ball near midfield but would fumble and Johnson County’s Colt Moody was there to recover. He said the defense wanted redemption after the Hampton loss.
“We took it as a challenge anytime they got the football,” said Moody. “We wanted a shutout and came close to getting it, but I feel good about the way we played. We’ve been staying together and working as a team. Tonight we were able to create some turnovers that our offense turned into scores. This was a good win.”
The game played back and forth in the second quarter, but mistakes would continue to plague the Bulldogs. They had one touchdown called back due to a penalty and was sacked twice for large losses.
The Longhorns finally managed to score their second touchdown of the game with 1:19 remaining in the half. Lowe bulled his way into the end zone from the 3-yard line, and Nate Rice added the PAT for a 15-0 half time lead.
Bulldogs can’t get
Johnson County’s defense kept applying the pressure on the Bulldogs who came into the game averaging 34 points per contest. The play of Webster, Rice, Moody, and Michael Oxentine kept Stone on the move for most of the game.
He was sacked twice during the third quarter and forced out of the pocket several other times. Then the offense finally awarded their defense.
Lowe’s 3-yard touchdown run with 1:49 remaining in the third quarter capped off a 15-play, 58-yard drive that gave them a 21-0 cushion heading into the fourth quarter. And they continued to pour it on over the next seven minutes.
Claiborne finally got on the board with 11;03 remaining in the game on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Stone to Hayden Hollin, but the Longhorns would bounce back to deliver the death blow.
The speedy Phillips got behind the Bulldogs’ defense and hauled in a 35-yard touchdown pass from Greer to up the ante at 27-7 at the 9:18 mark.
Lowe scored the Horns final touchdown of the game on a 4 yard run with 5:07 remaining to make it 33-6.
Reserves played out the final five minutes.
It was Johnson County’s defense that led the way to victory. Webster finished with nine tackles and two sacks. Moody cashed in with eight tackles, a sack, and one fumble recovery.
Rice provided eight tackles and a sack, while Neely had seven tackles and broke up two passes. Oxentine had a big night with five tackles, two sacks while applying constant pressure in the backfield. Medley, Ethan Icenhour, Logan Gilley, and Aiden Walker collected five tackles apiece.
Lowe’s 4 TD’s and 106 yards rushing stood tall on offense. He touched on stepping up his game in a must-win situation.
“We had to bounce back and get this one,” said Lowe, who also said the team had worked hard all week in practice. “We were able to fix a lot of things, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. We just have to keep playing better and win out. We want to host another first-round playoff game.’
Greer threw for 112 yards. Phillips had 2 catches for 72 yards and a score. Will Henson had a nice catch down the sidelines for 25 yards, and Neely had one for 15 in addition to running for 35 yards on only three carries.
The Longhorns compiled 316 yards of total offense with 205 coming on the ground.
Stone completed 5-of-12 passes for 51 yards and was held to 48 yards rushing after being sacked or tackled for losses seven times. Oxentine said the plan was to apply pressure from start to finish.
“We saw on game film that he didn’t do as well under pressure,” said Oxentine. “We wanted to force him out of the pocket and make him throw on the run. We didn’t want to allow time to stand back there and throw.”
Johnson County was flagged eight times for 50 yards. Claiborne amassed 12 penalties for 100 yards in the game.
The Longhorns had two touchdowns called back because of penalties.
The Longhorns (2-1, 3-3) will travel to Happy Valley on Friday to battle the Warriors in another non-conference rival game. Kickoff is set to for 7:30 pm.
Claiborne Co. 0 0 0 6 –6
Johnson Co. 8 7 6 12 –33
JC—Webster sacks Stone in end zone (8:31)
JC—Lowe 9 run (Kick failed) .55
JC—Lowe 6 run
(Rice kick) 1:19
JC—Lowe 3 run (kick failed) 1:49
CC—Holin 25 pass from Stone (kick failed) 11:92
JC—Lowe 4 run (kick failed) 5:07
Johnson County Statistics
Rushing: Lowe 21-106, Neely 3-35, Greer 5-10, Webster 5-17, Mann 5-16, Oxentine 3-17,
Passing: Greer 4-12-2 112 1 touchdown
Receiving: Phillips 2-72, Henson 1-25, Neely 1-15
Tackles 3 or more:
Webster 9, Moody 8,
Rice 8, Neely 7, Oxentine 5, Medley 5, Icenhour 5, Gilley 5, Walker 5, Bower 3, Lowe 3,