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Longhorns give Sullivan South Rebels a tough fight

After facing the Cyclones last week at home, the JCHS football team was ready to face the next big challenge on the road against the Sullivan South Rebels. With a near perfect record, hopes for a victory against South were already low, but to add to the challenge the Longhorns also faced a bitterly cold night that was attended by only the most diehard fans. Despite these odds, Johnson County was still able to pull out a surprisingly strong showing that ultimately left them as the only conference team that has been able to score against the Rebels so far this season.

“I felt like we did some things that we wanted to do, some things that we thought we could do after we watched film,” said Head Coach Mike Atwood. “We dropped a few balls and had a few costly penalties that hurt us, but we played better than last week. They’re a good football team; we just didn’t get it done when we had to.”

South was first to get the ball after the toss up and quickly showed off their reputation for strong drives and long passes. Just a couple of minutes into the game the Rebels were able to gain their first touchdown of the night, going up 7-0 with the extra point kick. Taking over after that initial blow, the Longhorn offense initially came out strong, moving down field with help from Colton Phillips and Jordan Grubb on the carry. However football is a game that can quickly change, and as Johnson County attempted a critical pass that could have meant a touchdown of their own, fans were dismayed when South intercepted.

“That’s what we do, we run the ball,” Atwood said, “But we’ve got to be able to complete a few passes. I thought we dropped a couple and missed a pass there in the first drive that could have made a difference. We gave up a couple touchdowns that we thought we were in position to make the plays, but we just didn’t make the plays when we had to. That’s been the case all year; we’re just not making the plays when we need to.”
Johnson County’s defense stepped up and the Rebels were unable to make anything out of the turnover. The offensive line worked equally hard after regaining the ball on a punt, but despite strong drives from senior Patrick South and a successful pass to Samuel Icenhour, the first quarter still closed out 7-0.

South resumed their passing game early in the second, eventually throwing in a long range touchdown pass to put them at 14 only to get a second touchdown just a couple minutes later to land at 21. Johnson County’s offense began to put together a successful effort in the last few minutes before the half, relying heavily on Patrick South who ground out run after run with help from blockers like David Eller and Jeff Brooks. With just 11 seconds on the clock, Johnson County was looking at a third and goal with just two yards between them and the end zone. One last amazing effort with the whole team pushing finally saw Patrick South gain those last few precious feet, and break the Rebel’s perfect conference record.

The Longhorn’s spirits were high coming out of the half. Trailing by just two touchdowns and starting off with the ball in their possession things actually seemed very optimistic, but as Coach Atwood pointed out that rapidly changed.

“We told our kids we’ve got to go down and score on this first drive,” Atwood said. “That was a big momentum shift. We had a bad play on the very first play after the half. We just got in a bad situation and it’s hard for us to get first downs when we’re second and long and third and long. With our offense we’re usually three or four yards in a cloud of dust and we can’t take a loss.”
As Atwood pointed out, things got steadily worse in the third. After quickly losing control of the ball, the Longhorns faced yet another Sullivan South touchdown putting the score at 7-28. Yet that was just the beginning of the trouble and by the end of the quarter the Rebels had scored twice more. All three of those advances were the direct result of strong passes straight into the end zone where the receivers made some spectacular catches despite the Longhorn defense.

Even down 7-41, Johnson County did not give up and actually saw quite a bit of improvement in the fourth quarter, starting with a huge run by Jordan Grubb who twisted and turned his way clean through the Rebel line. That play eventually allowed Patrick South to carry in Johnson County’s second score of the night, further sealing the team’s status as one of South’s toughest conference opponents this year. Regrettably that was the last successful effort of the evening, and even though the Longhorns prevented the Rebels from scoring, the game still ended up with a 14-41 loss.

All things considered, Coach Atwood seemed pleased that his team showed improvement from last week, but also lamented the missed chance to claim a big upset. “It’s what we wanted to do, we just missed a few opportunities,” Atwood said. “We missed some tackles, and missed a couple assignments when they ran that scrape play with number one. Our guys gave a good effort and played hard, but somebody’s just got to step up and make a play for us and we haven’t had that yet this year.”