For the second time this season the Johnson County Longhorns took on the Hampton Bulldogs in a game that was undecided until the very last play. Despite fighting back after falling behind in the first half, a second Longhorn win was simply not in the cards, leaving Johnson County just one point behind their biggest rivals 20-21.
Ironically it was a one point win only a few weeks ago that broke a long running dry spell for the Johnson County team and set them on a path to defeat both the Unicoi County Blue Devils and the Sullivan East Patriots. With the tables turned and playing away at Hampton, the Longhorn coaching staff knew the team was in for a fight. We played well and did what we wanted to do, said Head Coach Mike Atwood. It just came down to one play and thats about what I figured it would come down to. This is the way it always is with Hampton. Were just so close in proximity, and weve got kids who are friends with each other. Theyve got a couple kids that actually have played for us, where they live on the line and now theyre down here. Theyre all friends and they still talk and it just makes a good rivalry.
Although the match up was a close one all the way through the third and fourth quarters, the Longhorns initially had a tough time getting into the swing of things. Winning the toss, Hampton was first to take possession of the ball, but after receiving a fourth down punted to Johnson Countys Timmy Bellamy. With Patrick South keeping up his reputation on the carry, the Longhorns managed three first downs before a devastating interception gave the momentum back to the Bulldogs. Eventually reaching the end zone, Hampton was the first to get on the scoreboard with a touchdown at 3:35 on the clock.
Behind 0-7 after the extra point, Bellamy once again received the kick, utilizing it to make a 21 yard return. The Bulldog defense proved to be too much for the Longhorns at this early stage and in less than a minute Johnson County was punting the ball back into Hamptons possession.
With the first quarter over, the Bulldogs started off controlling the ball, making several first downs on 11 and 12-yard gains. Unable to stop their progress, the Longhorns were looking at a 14-point deficit five minutes before the half. Realizing they were going to have to make some changes to stay in the game, the offensive line started to work as a unit, following a big 35-yard gain from Jimmy Morefield. The Longhorns finally made it to the goal line at the three-minute mark thanks to an essential 12-yard drive by Patrick South to score the first Johnson County touchdown of the game.
Trailing 7-14 after an extra point kick by Ryan Mahala, the Longhorns came back from the half re-energized and ready to play. Players like powerhouse David Eller, worked hard to ensure that the Longhorns kept up the momentum both defensively and offensively. Its Hampton and theyve been our rivals forever, Eller said after the game. We didnt do too well in the first half but we really picked it up in the second and I just wish we could have won. That first touchdown definitely gave us a lot of momentum going into the second half.
With a strong ground game by South along with a first down by Luke Poteet, Johnson County was eventually able to get back into a scoring position. With only two minutes left in the third quarter, South was able to make his second touchdown of the night, tying up the score 14-14. With the clock winding down Hampton took possession and began working their way down field with several consecutive first downs. By the beginning of the fourth quarter the Bulldogs were back in a strong position of their own, reaching the end zone and retaking the lead 14-21.
With the game coming closer to its end Johnson County knew they had to make every play count. The first advance was a five-yard gain by Chase Kleine, followed by consecutive of first downs from South and quarterback Warren Kerley. At the four-minute mark the Longhorns had fought back in range of the goal line, and with a big pass to Kleine, were hoping to tie up the game. Things took a sharp turn for the worse as Kleine took a hit at the end zone; fumbling the ball and turning it back over to Hampton.
With less than four minutes on the clock, Hampton took possession one last time, but thanks to a huge effort from Johnson Countys defensive line was forced to punt with 3:13 left in the game. Receiving the kick, Timmy Bellamy managed a drive back to the 40-yard line. Relying on South, Johnson County eventually pushed on to the 20 but then stalled at the 10. With the clock ticking away fans watched anxiously to see if the Longhorns could manage the game-changing touchdown. With only 26 seconds on the clock Johnson County was still short eight yards, but with just enough time for one more play put everything on the line to gain the necessary ground.
For players like Eller, the last seconds were a tense scramble to stay in the game. I was just thinking hurry, hurry, hurry, Eller said. Weve just got to get up to the ball and keep driving. I was excited, I was thinking we can win this and it just hurts me to say that we didnt. Amid the deafening cheers of the packed visitors stands, the Longhorns were able to get the touchdown, putting them at 20-21, but this left a big question for the Longhorns coaching staff: go for the extra point and tie or try for the two point conversion and take the win.
Ultimately that call came down to Coach Mike Atwood. Left with no time outs and only seconds to choose, Atwood made the same decision that Hampton Coach Mike Lunsford did a few weeks ago. If youre at the other guys place I feel like you need to go for two, Atwood said. I felt that they thought we were going to kick it so I thought that we could get outside right there. I didnt want anyone to know except the kicker and the holder, not even our team. When we huddled, I saw that guy out there and I knew we were in trouble but we didnt have any time outs. There wasnt any way for me to call, I saw them lined up like that and it just didnt work out for us. I probably should have just kicked that ball, but I felt like we had a better chance to win it in the regulation than we did in overtime, but it just didnt work out for us. Thats the way it goes. If we had made it would have been a great call.
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