Going up against one of the toughest teams in the conference, the Longhorns displayed just how much they have improved this season, making the Sullivan North Golden Raiders earn every point of their close homecoming win Friday night. With several players like Daniel Lester and Jordan Grubb stepping up their games, along with an increasingly stronger passing game from quarterback Warren Kerley, Johnson County took the initiative and kept a fighting chance of victory all the way through the fourth quarter. A few key plays were all that made the difference in what became a battle of offense.
We did about what we wanted to do, Coach Mike Atwood said after the game. We felt like if we could move the ball well, we would have a chance to win. As it turned out we did have the chance to win this ball game but we couldnt get the plays when we needed them. Their offense did what they do; they move the ball down real slow and I hate we lost because I know we really wanted it. We usually play North well no matter where were at either down here or up there. Our teams are kind of alike, were both hardnosed teams that like to run the ball more than anything else, but they just did a better job of stopping than we did and that hurt us in the end.
Receiving the ball first, the Longhorns dominated the early game, mixing up their plays to make some big gains. Luke Poteet was first on the carry, followed by Patrick South who managed several big first downs throughout the night. Quarterback Warren Kerley played an ever-increasing role in the game as well, throwing a pass to River Cazire in the first 3 minutes to put Johnson County within reach of the end zone. Battling at the goal line, another pass, this time to Ryan Mahala, brought in the Longhorns first touchdown of the night, giving them the lead 7-0 with the extra point.
Commenting on the teams passing game, Atwood went on to say, We felt all along in practice this week that there would be a chance to win if we could throw the ball and move it down the field a little bit, because on the film sometimes they have eight or nine people in the box and if we could just give Kerley a few seconds to throw it, he passes the ball well. He doesnt throw it deep very well yet, but hes pretty accurate and he throws midrange and short passes pretty well and we thought we could work that on them. It turns out that it worked pretty well for us.
Things continued to look good for Johnson County as the Raiders returned the punt to the 40-yard line only to be stopped by a big hit from Colton Phillips. North next tried to gain some yardage with a pass of their own, but thanks again to the Longhorn defense, the play was not good. Receiving a punt on the fourth down, the Longhorns were looking to make a second score, but ran into trouble with their offensive line as the Raiders began to figure out Patrick Souths importance on the team. South is a hard runner, said Atwood. But I could tell they were keying in on him and he was upset tonight because he didnt have a big game like he wanted to. But I told him, they are keying in on you, everyone goes to you, and they know that we go through you. But that kind of opened it up for some other things. We passed the ball a little bit better than we have and some other kids made some big runs.
Within minutes the Longhorns were forced to turn the ball back over once again, and as Mahala prepared for the punt Johnson County was faced with their first big blow of the evening. Just as Mahala went for the kick North managed to block, intercepting and running the ball in for a quick and shocking touchdown. Undaunted, Johnson County was quickly back on the offensive, with Jimmy Morefield returning the ball to the 40 followed by big pass to Chase Kleine that resulted in a 36-yard run. Luke Poteet was next on the carry, coming just a few yards shy of another first down, but by the third down the Longhorns were in a position to make the most controversial play of the game.
With one minute 37 seconds left in the first quarter, Kerley made a game-changing pass to River Cazire at the end zone. In what became the most disputed call by Johnson County fans, Cazire made the catch, fell into the end zone where he dropped the ball. Although it appeared at first that Johnson County had retaken the lead with a second touchdown, excitement in the crowd turned to disappointment as officials announced that the ball had been fumbled, taking the extra points back away from the Longhorns.
Naturally upset with the decision, Cazire, like many of the fans, noted that he was on the ground before the ball left his hands. That call was a bad call, Cazire said. My knee was down and I rolled and let go of the ball and had already got back up to go to the huddle when they told me it was a fumble. That was just a bad call all around. Hands down we should have won that game.
With the first quarter ending in a tie 7-7, Johnson County was unwilling to let one mistake change the game and tried hard to make up for it in the second. As Cazire noted, We played hard and Im proud of our team. That call didnt have an impact on us. We came out after that and played even harder and our defense won that possession afterward. I think we handled it pretty good. As a team we all played hard, we played to our ability, and Im just proud of them.
Taking back the ball to start off the second quarter, North seized the momentum and began to plow through the Longhorns defensive line, finding any hole to gain ground. Within minutes they had managed to get back to the goal line, and ultimately took the lead with at touchdown 7-13. Realizing that they needed to put as much distance as possible ahead of their opponent, the Raiders went for the two-point conversion, which put them at 15.
The next big setback for Johnson County came at the seven-minute mark when the Longhorns made another attempt at a pass to try and gain ground. This time the Raiders were ready, intercepting and taking the ball into their possession. In just minutes, North had seized this opportunity to run in a third touchdown, putting the score at 7-22. Things did not look bright for Johnson County as Jordan Grubb returned the punt to their own 39-yard line, but the Longhorns refused to give up and with a pass brought the ball back to midfield. Cazire made another big run, this time for 25 yards, and Timmy Bellamy showed his ground game skill to gain a few critical yards of his own. Ultimately, Johnson County battled back to allow Grubb to make a second touchdown for the night, putting the score back at a more manageable 14-22.
The Longhorns continued to have trouble making the stop on the defense in the second half of the game, but players like Timmy Bellamy and Daniel Lester did manage several good hits. It was not enough to prevent another Raider touchdown with seven minutes left in the quarter, but with Grubb on the carry along with South, and a big run by Chase Kleine, the Longhorns made up for it by reaching the end zone at one minute 37 seconds.
Coming into the fourth behind 21-29, Johnson County knew they would have to make some big advances in the fourth quarter to pull out a win. The Longhorns got the break they needed less than a minute into the quarter, recovering a Sullivan North fumble to retake possession. Knowing that this could be the game changer, the Raiders put up their best performance defensively for the night, and by the seven-minute mark, Johnson County was faced was on their third down with seven to go. A pass intended for River Cazire could have made a big difference in the final score, but went incomplete, forcing the Longhorns to turn over the ball on downs.
At this late stage North was more anxious than ever to put a sizable lead ahead of Johnson County and with four minutes in the game made their last touchdown of the night, putting the score at 21-35. Now battling the clock as well, Johnson County tried to use every available second to their advantage. Another big pass intended for Cazire failed to hit its mark, but Cazire himself avoided potential disaster by blocking a receiver that was poised to intercept. Relying on their passing game, Kerley fired another ball, this time at Chase Kleine to pick up another big gain in yardage. A final pass finally found its way to Cazire for a late game touchdown with two minutes 29 seconds on the clock.
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