Going up against the Unaka Rangers in the last home game of the season, the Johnson County Longhorns fans were given the opportunity to see their team make a big come back not once but three times, ultimately coming up with a very close win despite trailing behind for the majority of the game. Beginning with a first quarter initially led by some early Johnson County gains from Quentin Wright, the Longhorns eventually fell behind and were unable to regain the lead until the last two minutes of the fourth.
Through three tumultuous quarters with several moments where it appeared that Johnson County had little chance of getting back in the game, Coach Austin Atwood kept his fingers crossed and his hopes up that his team would pull through. There were about three different points where we got down by double digits. We were down in double digits and cut it to five, then it went back to 11, and we got it back to six. It went back to 10 there at the end. Thats what the big part for our kids was, not ever giving up and battling back.
Throughout most of the second quarter the Longhorns were down by ten or more. Despite a steady stream of buckets that saw their score climb from 12 to 23 overall, Johnson County could never gain any real ground against the Rangers who were putting up as many or more buckets of their own. The prospects for victory seemed pretty bleak two minutes before halftime, with several of the Longhorns key players, including Ryan Mahala, getting into foul trouble and Unakas lead growing to 12 at 18-30. By the Buzzer the score had improved somewhat to 23-34 but there were few smiling faces going into halftime.
However, the general atmosphere of the court had changed halfway through the third quarter, as a newly energized team of Longhorns began to turn their fortunes around, beginning with a technical foul against Dusty Stout that brought the lead back down in to the single digits. A rough last minute testified that the Rangers were far from defeated, but Johnson County seemed to only grow in their determination.
The fourth quarter was much more favorable to Johnson County overall, kicking off with gains from Chase Phillips, Carlton Tugman, and Chase Kleine. A layup followed by a three pointer, both from Dusty Stout, put the Longhorns only two points away half way through the quarter. Another big push from Unaka drove the lead back to five, but was answered by a three-pointer from Dalton Timbs and another technical for Stout that finally tied up the boards at 53.
The Longhorns took the lead following two free throws from Ryan Mahala in the last two minutes of the game. Coupled with another free throw from Dalton Timbs, the Longhorns were three points ahead with less than a minute on the clock. Unfortunately Unaka made one last scare with a big three that tied the game 59. Fans were preparing for the second overtime game of the night when a little luck and a lot of determination by Ryan Mahala secured one last rebound that gave Johnson County the win.
You could tell that this is one of the first times this year that he wanted the ball worse than the other guys did, said Atwood. Mahala seemed more than relieved with the games ending. We got the ball and were driving in. We didnt have the open shot so we kicked it out to Chase Phillips. He had a clean shot but there was a guy in his face causing him to miss it. The ball came off on my side and I wanted it more than they did. I went for the rebound, had a turn around jumper, and it just rolled in. It felt good, much better than I did at the end of the first half.
Atwood seemed very satisfied as well, commenting on how tough the Rangers played. Unaka may win the single A tournament. Cloudland is great and Hampton is pretty good, but if Unaka passed the basketball like they did tonight they will be tough to deal with. They pass the basketball as good as anybody weve played all year.
Johnson County 61
Brian Dempsey 13
Dusty Stout 11
Chase Phillips 11
Carlton Tugman 7
Quentin Wright 5
Dalton Timbs 5
Ryan Mahala 4
Chase Kleine 3