The Longhorns just didnt get the big break fans were hoping for in the last regular game of the season. Playing against the visiting Happy Valley Warriors, Johnson County held their own throughout the whole first half and had several opportunities to make big plays, which could have impacted the final score. Yet steady trouble executing on the offense and a few key breakdowns on the defense left the Longhorns with an especially disappointing loss.
Celebrating Senior Night with 14 players on the field at halftime, fans were hoping to see one last big victory. After winning the toss and deferring to the second half it seemed as though the odds might be in Johnson Countys favor. The Longhorns got off to a strong start in the first quarter, with Connor Icenhour managing to sack the Warriors quarter back within the first minute of the game. Taking possession of the ball on a punt after holding Happy Valley to a fourth down, things quickly went down hill for the home team.
Offensive trouble began with a critical fumble on one of the Longhorns first plays turning the ball back over to the Warriors. Johnson County nearly turned the ball over twice more within the next couple of minutes and ultimately wound up punting back to Happy Valley, who, taking the initiative pounded their way through the Longhorns defensive line to land the first touchdown of the night with 2:24 on the clock.
Down 0-6, after a failed Warrior kick, the chances of a Johnson County victory were still very high, and a huge pass to River Cazire with just over a minute left in the quarter pushed the Longhorns all the way to the 20-yard line. With just seconds on the clock, Patrick South managed to get in a few more yards before switching ends of the field, and quarterback Warren Kerley came into the second quarter making a strong first down.
The Longhorns managed to take it right up to goal line before a 15-yard penalty set them back. Rallying their defense, Happy Valley began to focus on shutting down Johnson Countys ground game. Before long the Longhorns dreams of taking the lead were over. As kicker Ryan Mahala went in for a field goal attempt, the Warriors managed a crucial block to put them in prime position to make a second touchdown.
That opportunity came just seconds later, as a pass from Happy Valleys quarterback found its way to the intended receiver and consequently the end zone. Hoping to make up for the earlier extra point kick, the Warriors made an attempt at a two-point conversion, which proved successful and pushed their lead to 14. Desperately needing a touchdown, the Longhorns pushed hard on their next possession with Patrick South making three consecutive first down advances. Yet, like so many other efforts through the game, Johnson County came up short once again as Happy Valley began working through the Longhorns strategy.
Even Coach Mike Atwood conceded the Warriors skill on the field. Happy Valley has a good team, and they outplayed us, Atwood said. Theres no two ways about it, they just outplayed us. That early fumble killed us and we cant do that. Theres nothing I can take away from them. We had a defensive breakdown. We had certain guys who were supposed to stop certain things and they just didnt get it done. Against that type of offense you have to play disciplined defense. You have to play where you are supposed to be and we just had a couple of breakdowns and it hurt us on some crucial plays.
Coming back from the half in possession of the ball, the Longhorns looked ready to take control of the game. Luke Poteet and South both made big gains on the ground to push Johnson County over the 50, and a timely penalty against the Warriors pushed the Longhorns 15 yards closer. Fighting yard by yard, Johnson County managed to avoid some near misses, with South making a critical push on fourth and two put the team back on a first down. Through sheer determination the offensive line finally pushed South across the goal line, giving the Longhorns their first and only touchdown of the game.
Only one score behind their opponents, Johnson County needed another big push in the worst way, but a string of incomplete passes and lack of yardage on the carry left the offense ineffective. We didnt throw the ball very well, said Coach Atwood. They were blitzing three or four guys and we didnt pick up the blitz a couple of times. With our type of offense one bad play can mean youre in trouble. It was just a bad game all around. I cant really fault our guys effort; we just got outplayed and couldnt get any breaks.
The fourth quarter saw the Longhorns once again in possession but only long enough to turn the ball over on downs. While the defense began holding its own and preventing the Warriors from reaching the end zone, the lack of big offensive plays turned the game into a race against the clock. With less than five minutes in the game, the Longhorns were dealt the most devastating blow of the night.
Forced to punt on fourth down, Mahala found his kick blocked by the Warriors defense at the goal line, giving Happy Valley a safety and an extra couple of points that helped crush the Longhorns spirits so late in the game. With the last minutes running out on the clock, Johnson County scrambled to put at least one more touchdown, but following one last failed Hail Mary pass, were forced to watch the regular season end in Happy Valleys favor.
For seniors like Ryan Smith, the loss was naturally very disappointing, but having worked hard this year and accomplished several big wins Smith still seemed proud of his team. Its been a long road and weve worked hard, Smith said. Its tough coming back from an 0-10 season but we did it. We came up a little short in the end but we gave it everything we had. Were a strong team and we fight hard, but youve got to leave it all on the field. Beating Hampton in overtime by one point really made the season.
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