The Johnson County Longhorns made the long trip to Wise County, Virginia last Friday night to play a chilly autumn game against the John I Burton Raiders. Getting off to a rough first quarter, the team put up a valiant fight but ultimately came up short by the end of the game 12-21. The game kicked off with the Raiders taking possession of the ball, and despite several initially strong defensive plays from Johnson County, including a stop by Seth Little that resulted in a loss of yards, the Longhorns were rocked by a long pass from Burton just a couple of minutes in.
That huge play gave the Raiders a wide-open pathway to the end zone, and to Johnson Countys dismay, resulted in the first touchdown of the night. Making matters worse, the Longhorns were quick to find out that Burton was more than ready for their ground game, pinpointing players like Luke Poteet and Patrick South to force Johnson County into making passes. In fact, the Raiders received more than one penalty throughout the game because of their tactics, starting off Johnson Countys very first possession with a face mask on South. The Longhorns kept pushing through and managed a fairly strong short pass game from quarterback Warren Kerley.
I thought we threw the ball fairly well, said Coach Mike Atwood after the game. We forced a few passes that turned into turnovers and we fumbled the ball right there in the first play of the first half and that really hurt us, but I thought Kerley threw the ball well overall. We just turned the ball over too much. We waited until the second half to start moving the ball on the ground and if we cant move the ball on the ground were hurting. We moved it a little more in the second half, where we played pretty well but those turnovers killed us.
The Longhorns first offensive push failed to reach the goal line, and following a failed pass to Chase Kleine on fourth and fourth, the ball was turned over on downs. The defense held a strong position on the field and before a full minute had passed on the clock, the Raiders were punting back to Johnson County. Both teams ran into offensive trouble, with Kerley getting sacked on a Longhorn fourth down with two yards to go, while the Raiders made several incomplete pass attempts resulting in a punt at fourth and nine. Johnson Countys defense continued to hold Burton at bay, with Daniel Lester getting a sack to his credit with just 56 seconds left in the first quarter.
Punting back to the Longhorns to start off the second, things appeared to be looking up for Johnson County as back-to-back passes to River Cazire and Timmy Bellamy began moving the team far down field. Unfortunately, that push as well failed to make the end zone as the Longhorns got back into trouble moving the ball on the ground. With a very close but incomplete pass to Bellamy, Johnson County had to turn the ball over once again on downs.
Burton began making headway in the last few minutes before the half, and with another huge pass resulting in a gain of 29 yards, got back into scoring position for a second time. With just over three minutes on the clock, the Raiders put the ball across the goal line to put the score at 0-14 with the extra point kick. Determined not to let the game get away from them, the Longhorns fought hard in their last possession of the quarter.
Through sheer effort, Johnson County was able to pick up a few yards on the carry, with Jordan Grubb fighting his way to a first down. A pass to Cazire brought the Longhorns to the 36-yard line with just under a minute left in the half. A penalty against the Raiders for pass interference pushed Johnson County to the 21-yard line. Another pass to Bellamy put the team within sight of a touchdown, and one last effort by Warren Kerley just yards from the end zone allowed Johnson County to get on the scoreboard for the first time.
Ryan Mahala, the Longhorns regular kicker was out with an injury, and sophomore Austin Kurtz stepped up to take his place. Despite serious doubts from the Longhorns fans, officials called the extra point kick no good, leaving Johnson County at six. With Burton retaking possession and just seconds on the clock, senior Jimmy Morefield made an amazing jump to successfully intercept a long range Raider pass, proving that there was just enough time for the Longhorns defense to make one more big play even if it didnt have time to make a difference in score.
For players like Daniel Lester, the defenses determination was key for keeping the Longhorns in the game. Overall I think our defense worked out, Lester said. We did give up two touchdowns at the beginning but we got it together and played our game. It was just there in the second half where we hoped our offense could have stepped up and done something. We could have used it in the first half. Both of the lines tried hard. It wasnt a lack of effort, but it was just a lot of small mistakes like turnovers. We shouldnt have had the turnovers. It was just mental things that we have to fix and practice.
Lester went on to explain some of the basic strategy behind the defenses success. Pretty much when were out there, we know dont pay attention to the linemen, Lester said. We read the backfield and tonight we had key player. We keyed in on him and I think we got it together. We did some good reads out there, made some good plays, and kept our offense on the field as much as we could.
Coming back from the half, fans were hoping that the Longhorns would start to take charge. However, despite a much better performance overall, the third quarter started off with another devastating blow for Johnson County. Just seconds into the half a Longhorn fumble gave Burton another huge opportunity to make a big run, taking the ball in for their third score of the evening.
With the score now at 6-21 things were looking bleak for Johnson County. The offensive line continued to have trouble early on, despite a few strong plays that pushed them down field. A fumble at the five-minute mark was picked back up by the Longhorns, but in the next play the Raiders were able to intercept yet again. The defense held Burton at bay with a couple of hard stops by Lester and Jordan Grubb, but as the clock wore down on the third quarter it was becoming more doubtful that the Longhorns could turn the game around.
Things did pick up for the offense toward the end of the period with South back on the carry and able to put some yards behind him. As the game went into the fourth, South made another tough first down, but a couple of missed passes to Kleine and Cazire forced the Longhorns to turn the ball over once again. The Raiders faced a short offensive run before Johnson County was back in the drivers seat, and this time the Longhorns intended to score.
A personal foul against the Raiders gave Johnson County an extra boost and with both Poteet and Grubb on the carry the team worked their way toward the end zone. At just under five minutes left in the game, the Longhorns found themselves back on the scoreboard. An incomplete attempt for a two-point conversion left Johnson County at 12. Even at this late stage the team continued to fight for every yard, hoping for some way to pull off a last second win.
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