By Tim Chambers
Johnson County has been among the elite football teams in Northeast Tennessee for the past two seasons, and their dominance has started with Sullivan East. They are hoping that continues on Friday when the Patriots travel to Harold Arnold Field for both team’s season opener.
East has been shut out for eight quarters over the past two seasons losing 14-0 last year and 34-0 in 2017. It might not be that easy this time around.
The Patriots are returning senior quarterback Dylan White who has been behind center for three seasons. He has a strong arm and capable receivers, which will test the Longhorns’ secondary early.
Head coach Don Kerley knows what his team is up against.
“They have the same quarterback they’ve had for the past two years, and he throws the ball pretty well,” said Kerley. “They have more speed than they’ve had in the past and I expect them to be much better.”
The Pats return a couple of big guys in the middle, but many of the East starters will play both ways. Kerley hopes his team can wear them down with its depth.
“We’re going to play a lot of players for sure,” said Kerley. “We tried to play a lot of ours both ways in scrimmages, but that didn’t go too well. We feel like we had a lot of guys who can play so we’ll try and keep fresh players on the field and wear down our opponent. It’s hard to look at the past two teams and replace the talent that we lost. It’s not going to be as easy this year as it has been for the past two seasons.”
The Longhorns will start junior Stacy Greer at quarterback. Seniors Jared Kimble and Curtis Lowe are expected to see plenty of action on both sides of the football. Kimble will also handle the kicking and punting duties.
“We don’t want to play many of our kids both ways, but those two are our leaders on the field,” said Kerley. “People have asked me who’s starting, but it’s still up in the air. We’ll take a hard look at everyone during this week’s practice and game preparation. We’ll pretty much know who is going to start and play a lot on Thursday.”
The Longhorns got a big boost athletic wise on Wednesday. Basketball standouts Michael Oxentine and Lucas Phillips came out
for the team, and Kerley believes they can add some much-needed depth at key positions.
“Oxentine should help us at the defensive end some, and he could play some fullback. He’s big, strong and fast and he’s about 30 pounds more than anybody we play at defensive end. I’m telling them small steps at a time, but he’s going to be a player that helps this football team.”
The addition of Phillips gives the team more speed.
“We don’t have a lot of depth in the secondary and at wide receiver, but he’ll help up at both positions,” said Kerley. “He has a really good hand and can catch the football. He’s also one of the fastest players out here.”
The Longhorns are hoping to get wide receiver Will Henson cleared to play. He has been out after surgery on his wrist and will be a force at wide receiver.
The Longhorns had a scrimmage game against Trinity last Wednesday,
and Kerley said the team
has some big kinks to work out.
“Our defense is light years ahead of the offense right now, said Kerley. “When you lose players like Nathan Lane, Zack Eller and Troy Arnold that’s going to happen. Troy struggled some early but got better every game. Stacy can be a good player for us. Stacy is a strong runner, but he’s had some trouble throwing the football but is improving his accuracy. He’ll get there and do a good job for us.”
Kerley said the game plan for Friday is simple.
“We’ve got to execute on both sides of the football and be physical. It’s not going to be easy to go out there and do what we’ve done in the past two seasons. We have to eliminate our mistakes and play smart on both sides of the ball. Every game is going to be a tough one.”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 inside of Paul McEwen Stadium.