By Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
BLOUNTVILLE—Johnson County found themselves in a “lion’s den” at Sullivan Central, but like Daniel, they locked the big cat’s jaws before it was able to devour them and escape with a victory.
The Longhorns overcame a 13-0 halftime deficit to knock off Sullivan Central 34-27 on Friday night at Bernie Webb Field. The Cougars suffered their third straight close loss and now own a 33 game losing streak that dates back to 2014.
Johnson County ranked No. 9 in the state’s Class 3A poll ran their season record to 3-1. They’ll take on West Greene at home on Friday in an all-important conference matchup.
STERN HALFTIME MESSAGE
Credit head coach Don Kerley and his staff for making the necessary adjustments needed after their baker’s dozen deficit at halftime. His message at intermission was straight and to the point.
“I told them to hold on to the football,” said Kerley. “The first half was terrible because we didn’t come out ready and turned the ball over too much. We wanted to win the third quarter and the fourth quarter and then the football game. That was our game plan at halftime. Central did a lot of good things on offense, and they have a great quarterback and some size up front. They played well, and we did too in the second half. The game could have gone either way. We have an “X” on our backs every week, and a lot of that is because of last year. We lost a lot of playmakers off that team, so this bunch has to step up and play well every week. I was proud of them for the way they bounced back in the second half.”
Central dominated play in the first half and left the field at
the break with a ton of momentum.
The Cougars took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on Gavin Harkleroad’s 28-yard touchdown reception from Jackson Harrison. The senior quarterback scored from a yard out in the second quarter to put his team up 13-0 at the break.
But back would storm the Longhorns.
SECOND HALF SURGE
Weston Throop blocked a punt deep in Central territory, and it didn’t take them long to get on the board.
Nathan Lane scored on a nine-yard run to that cut the lead to 13-7 after Jared Kimble’s PAT.
It was another Cougar turnover that set up Johnson County’s second score. Zack Eller picked off a pass at the 41 then Troy Arnold and Jisaiah Webster would do the rest.
Arnold bulldozed his way on a couple of nice runs that totaled 20 yards then Webster found paydirt from 21-yard out to tie the game at 13-13 after the missed conversion.
The Cougars would retake the lead on the ensuing drive thanks to Joey Byrd’s 1-yard run that made it 20-13 after Ben Williams’ conversion. Once again the Horns would show some resilience.
Freshman Nate Rice sacked Harrison for a 15-yard loss that forced the Cougars to punt. Arnold would score on a 1-yard run, but they still trailed 20-19 after the missed conversion kick.
LANE STRIKES AGAIN
Special team’s continued their outstanding play for the Longhorns. Nathan Lane’s
41-yard punt return for a
touchdown put Johnson
County back in front 27-20 with 8:03 remaining in the contest. Arnold two-point conversion pass to Aric Neely was successful making up for the two missed previous missed PAT’s.
The game continued to be a see-saw affair with Central bouncing back to tie the game on Harrison’s three-yard
run with 5:24 remaining.
Johnson County would have an answer.
LONGHORNS RIDE THE “A” TRAIN TO VICTORY
The Longhorns went back to their old style of football with Troy “the A-Train” Arnold paving the way.
He carried four Cougars on his back to the 12-yard line on a fourth and six. Kimble’s 4-yard touchdown run with 1:21 remaining would seal the deal for the Longhorns.
“It was big that we retook the lead late in the game,” said Kimble. “They hurt us some on the stop routes, but we worked out butts off to get back in this thing and go ahead. Troy ran the ball great, and we just followed his lead. We’re a team, a family that is going to continue working hard to prove that we too can win a lot of football games. It’s good to get out of here with a win.”
Arnold ended the night with 119 yards rushing on 17 carries. He also completed 10-of-17 passes for 75 yards.
“We came in at halftime and talked about what would work,” said Arnold. “It was a chance for us to gather ourselves. We didn’t want to be the team that ended their streak, and the coaches lit a fire under us. Our line was smaller but was beating them off the ball in the middle. We found a lot of success running the football straight at them.”
Johnson County ran the ball 31 times for 175 yards. Lane scored a pair of touchdowns and logged 105 all-purpose yards. Zack Eller had a good night on both sides of the
ball logging three catches in
addition to his two interceptions.
Tyler Norris once again sparked the defense with
16 tackles, a sack, and a
fumble recovery. Rice provided eight tackles, a sack and broke up three passes in his best
varsity outing of the season. Kimble and Eller logged six stops each. Tyrone McFadden contributed five tackles and a sack.
The offensive line consisting of freshman John Stout, Christian Krupsky, Logan Gilley, Rick Fenner, and Lucas Walters played outstanding against a defensive line that was much bigger including Gavin Rupe (6’8, 395 lbs).
Central got a mammoth performance from Harrison, their senior signal caller. He completed 15-of-29 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown.
Harrison got the ball back one final time to try and march his team downfield but couldn’t do so. He was forced out of the pocket twice by Norris that enabled Johnson County to preserve the win.
“He a great player and he helped them do a lot of
good things on the field,” said Kerley. “They need to keep their heads up. They’re a good ball club that is going to win some games.”
Norris added. “We weren’t satisfied with the way we played in the first half. We decided to try and get some more pressure on the quarterback. We weren’t going to let him set back there and throw it downfield on that last drive. We weren’t about to let them end their streak against us.”
Johnson County 34,
Sullivan Central 27
Johnson County 0 0 13 21
Sullivan Central 7 6 0 14
SC—Harkleroad 28 pass from Harrison (Williams kick)
SC—Harrison 1 run (kick failed)
JC—Lane 9 run (Kimble kick)
JC—Webster 21 run (run failed)
SC—Byrd 1 run (Williams kick)
JC—Arnold 1 run (kick failed)
JC—Lane 39 punt return (Arnold pass to Neely)
SC—Harrison 3 run (Williams kick)
JC—Kimble 4 run (Kimble kick)
(Johnson County only)
Rushing: 17-119, Lane 5-20, Webster 6-27, Greer 2-5, Kimble 1-4. Total 31-175
Passing: Arnold 10-17-0 (75 yards)
Receiving: Eller 3-20, Lane 3-20, Webster 2-19, Kimble 2-16
Tackles: 4 or more: Norris 16, Rice 8, Kimble 6, Eller 6, McFadden 5, Greer 4.
Blocked Punts: Throop, Scott
Interceptions: Eller (2)
Sacks: Norris, Rice