Following a tough season opener against the Tennessee High Vikings, the Longhorns were able to bounce back with a big win at home against the visiting Grayson County High Blue Devils from Independence, Virginia. A tough school with a decorated past and a quarterback who has received a lot of hype, Johnson Countys coaching staff knew they would have to spend the last two weeks trying to prepare the team for what was sure to be an exciting match up.
Grayson County really played well, said Coach Mike Atwood. From what we saw on film we knew they threw it all over the place and threw well. That quarterbacks on the money every pass. We practiced hard and we prepared for this game, and Im proud of our defense as a whole. We knew we had to get a win right here. We knew if we lost two in a row like this it would have done damage to our season. Were proud of them. They knew how important it was. I was proud of our defensive backs. They did exactly what we practiced all week and thats a good thing. You want to see guys that are going to do what you tell them.
Although the excitement was high by the end of the night, the game got off on a very sour note. The Blue Devils won the toss and opted to receive. Johnson Countys kick did not go exactly as anticipated, and before the first minute of the game was up, Grayson County used an amazing breakaway that allowed them to quickly put up seven points. Johnson County was able to recover from this first devastating blow, but even Coach Atwood admits that at the beginning there was much concern. We got out of our lanes there at kickoff, Atwood said. We didnt put it right where we wanted to kick it anyway and we missed the tackle. They could have folded tent right there, but they didnt. They came back and played hard and were proud of their effort.
While the Longhorns most often rely on a strong ground game, a very tough showing from Grayson Countys defense saw some quick changes in strategy that ultimately proved very successful. Patrick South and Jordan Grubb made the majority of the carries, but starting with a successful pass to Seth Billingsley early in Johnson Countys first possession, it was obvious that the Longhorns were going to have to take some chances.
Billingsleys critical first down catch eventually gave way to another pass to receiver Greg Roark that picked up 35 yards, significantly moving the home team down the field. By the eight-minute mark Johnson County was on target for their first trip to the end zone, with the credit going this time to Jordan Grubb. Unfortunately, the extra point kick was off its mark leaving a troublesome one-point deficit. Johnson Countys defense stepped up in the Blue Devils second possession, making it a short run that saw a fourth down punt after only a couple minutes of game time. Regrettably, a couple of missed passes brought the same results for Johnson County.
The effort from both lines was clearly visible, with players like Aaron Osborne making huge hits and interrupting key passes that could have given the Blue Devils a decidedly different outcome. Their quarterback is a great player, a big boy, Osborne said about his opponents. His calves are about the size of my head. Hes a really good player and hard to bring down. If youve got to go for his legs you probably wont get him. We just got it in our heads that we wanted this game, wanted to win. Our front line on defense is amazing, strong boys, good boys. Their passes were completely shutdown by our corners and our defensive backs.
Yet, even with the defense doing their best, Grayson County was still able to get within field goal range, landing the extra three points in the last two minutes of the first quarter. The Longhorns continued to mix up their offense with a few solid passes combined with a stellar performance from both South and Grubb. In fact, South was able to get a string of good plays right at the end of the first quarter that allowed him to claim two first downs and ultimately the teams second touchdown with just 44 seconds on the clock. Hoping to account for some of the Blue Devils advantage, Johnson County opted for the two-point conversion but could not break through, settling for a 12-10 lead.
Not to be outdone, the defense made a huge play in the last couple of seconds that resulted in an interception by Greg Roark who ran it all the way back to the 23 yard line. Speaking about the critical passes made in the game, Coach Atwood seemed not only pleased about his teams abilities on the defense but also in making key plays on the offense.
In the films we saw they played a safety most of the time, Atwood said about the Blue Devils. But then we noticed that they didnt have any safety because they were gearing up to stop our running game. They played everybody up in the box and I told our boys that were going to have to complete some passes if were going to have a chance to beat them. Grayson County eventually loosened up just a little bit and we started to have some success running the ball, but Roark just played great and Warren Kerley played great as well.
The combination of Kerley as quarterback and Roark on receiver proved to be one of Johnson Countys biggest offensive weapons of the night. Besides his interceptions, Roark made several amazing catches including one in the third quarter that allowed him to run it in for a touchdown. That pass was a particularly good display of Roarks ability as he accurately judged where the ball was going to be by holding back at the right time and letting the Blue Devils defender get out ahead.
I turned around and looked back, Roark said about the catch. The defender was in front of me. I planted on my left foot, came back to get the ball. I was aiming to go to the outside but there was a defensive player there, so I cut up towards the middle. The offensive line did a great job on blocking so that Kerley didnt get sacked. Warren is a great quarterback. He got the ball to me every time.
The ground game had their moments as well. Jordan Grubb had a spectacular second quarter, time and again charging headlong through the Blue Devils lines. With a little help from Colton Phillips along the way, Grubb was finally able to reach the end zone in the last minute before the half pushing the score to 18-10. The Longhorns made another conversion attempt, once again relying on South, and this time were successful with an extra cushion at 20-10.
Roarks touchdown came late in the third to land Johnson County at 26, and although it didnt get reflected on the scoreboard, both teams seemed even more determined on the defense coming out of the half. Younger players like Payton Fenner, who led the team in tackles, started to make their presence felt and by the fourth quarter the game had slowed to a battle of the lines.
We tried to come out even harder in the second half than we did the first, Fenner said about the win. Its great. The first week we werent really ready for the team, but the last two weeks weve been conditioning and getting our coverages down. We just had to read our keys and tackle the football.
The last quarter of the game saw some big plays, including another huge catch from Greg Roark, and the Longhorns were able to take the ball all the way to the goal line. Unfortunately, this was offset by an especially determined effort from the Blue Devil defense, which was able to hold out through the fourth down. Despite this shortfall, Coach Atwood was still very excited with a win over such a highly rated team. Its a good win for us, Atwood said. They were second round in the playoffs two years in a row. Theyve had a lot of success and they have 16 seniors who have won a lot of ball games over there. I knew it was going to be a tough game but I was really proud of our effort.
As the last few minutes wore down it was apparent that Johnson County would come out on top. The last real goal was to keep Grayson County away from the end zone, and with the final buzzer the Longhorns could officially claim a 26-10 victory. The win was a product of a true team effort, and as quarterback Warren Kerley pointed out, was probably the direct result of a little extra time on the field.
Tennessee High was a good football team but we were bad out of shape, Kerley said. We knew if we got in better shape we could play with them tonight. Weve worked extremely hard. Weve all been going hard at practice the last two weeks and we were excited to see game day finally come.