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Longhorns ready for angry Warriors

October 3, 2018

#5 Zack Eller TD run
Johnson County will look for Zack Eller (5) to make some big plays for them on Friday against Happy Valley. Eller has been a key performer for the Horns this season. Photo by Tameula Trivett

By Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
[email protected]

Johnson County is riding a four-game winning streak and currently ranked No.7 in the AP’s Class 3A poll. They were sitting at No. 3 when they battled Happy Valley last season on top of Warrior Hill. What a difference one season makes. Lady Luck hasn’t been good to Happy Valley in 2018. The Warriors are currently 2-4 after ranking No. 7 in its Class 2A, this time last year.

The Warriors are riding a two-game losing streak including a 31-7 defeat at Grace Christian last week. But don’t think the Longhorns will be overlooking them. One of their wins came against Unicoi County 27-13 that is currently tied for first place with Johnson County. They also played well recently in a heartbreaking 8-7 loss at Cloudland. The Warriors have lost starting tailback Will Tittle for the season with a torn ACL, but they still have some quality football players. Eli Ayers won the starting quarterback job after game three. Their best player is linebacker/fullback Dakota Cochran who scored their only touchdown in last week’s loss. Cochran rushed for 753 yards last season and is pulling the wagon so far this year. Luke Naylor who is also one of the team’s top defensive players leads the offensive line.
Johnson County’s head coach Don Kerley knows what his team is up against.

“Happy Valley has some pretty good football players and always play well against us,’ said Kerley. They are well coached and have played a tough schedule. They held Unicoi County to 13 points, and they are averaging nearly 40 per game. We saw what can happen against Hampton when you don’t come out ready to play. It’s going to a big test for us. They have revenge on their minds because of last year’s game.”

Kerley was referring to last year’s 14-7 victory over the Warriors. Happy Valley was on the two-yard line ready to score but was stripped of the football by Tyler Norris. The senior linebacker ran the ball back 98 yards for a touchdown that swung all the momentum in Johnson County’s favor.

“I remember it well,” said Norris after Friday’s win at Claiborne County. “They’ll come in here wanting to get us back, but we’re going to be ready to play. We’ll not be looking past anyone.”

Norris is approaching 100 tackles and is currently leading Northeast Tennessee in that department. Nathan Lane is one of the area’s top scorers and logged a couple more in Friday’s win. The Horns hope to wear Happy Valley down, as the game gets deep in the third quarter.

“They play a lot of kids both ways but they all pretty good athletes,” added Kerley. “We’ll try and wear them down and play a lot of people. It’s been working for us so far. We have confidence in all of our kids.”

Johnson County will need to find a way to get the football into the hands of their speedsters Lane and Zack Eller. They also need for quarterback Troy Arnold to have a good game and not turn the ball over. Jared Kimble and Stacy Greer both ran the football well in Friday’s win. Johnson County needs to shore up its special teams play especially on extra points. They have failed to convert six times in the last three games due to miscues. Johnson County (5-1) can clinch a home playoff game next week if they can defeat winless North Greene at home. But they won’t be looking past the Tribe.

“We’re taking the one game at a time approach,” said Norris. “We don’t want to be looking past Happy Valley or anyone else.”
Kickoff is set for Friday at 7:30 inside of Paul McEwen Stadium.