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Longhorns show heart in lopsided loss

JC’s freshman quarterback Connor Simcox completes a pass against top ranked Alcoa. He had 5 for the game. Photo by Joey Icenhour

By Tim Chambers
Sports Editor

It would have been an easy thing to have made a phone call telling top-ranked Alcoa that Johnson County wasn’t coming to play because of unforeseen circumstances. But that didn’t happen, and the Longhorns earned respect for showing up and fighting until the final seconds ran off the clock. 

No.1 ranked Alcoa, winners of five straight state titles and 18 totals, begin their quest to win another one on Friday with a 49-0 win inside Bill Bailey Stadium on Goddard Field in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs. The loss looked lopsided, but the Horns could have quickly put two touchdowns on the board, coming within inches of scoring on the Tornado defense. 

Head coach Gary Rankin felt like his team was unmotivated at the start. “We were sloppy,” he said, “We just need to develop a little more toughness.”

Rankin’s talent level and high expectations are why the Tornadoes have won 18 state championships. They’ll likely win their seventh straight one this year with the Horns being their springboard.

It wasn’t that the Horns didn’t make plays or have a chance to get on the scoreboard. Matt Mowery made the playoff the night. He blocked an Alcoa punt around the 25-yard line, hustled his way down to the one, and recovered it. 

The Longhorns had four chances to try and punch it into the end zone but couldn’t during the first half. Freshman quarterback Connor Simcox stood in the pocket like a seasoned veteran throwing several completions, including one that went off a Longhorn receiver’s fingertips that would have been a 60 yard plus touchdown toss. Dalton Brown, Sam Mann, and Stacy Greer tried their best to find creases in the Tornado defense but couldn’t do so against the more superior team.

“Their overall team speed was unreal,” said Brown. “We had never been up against anything like that. I think they’ll win another state title. They are really good.”

Ethan Icenhour and Ryan Morefield led the defense with six tackles apiece. Corie Neely chipped in with five. Alcoa’s quarterback Zach Lunsford threw for three touchdowns and 200 yards to lead their offense. Zane Bonham scored two touchdowns by running through some gaping holes created by their superior offensive line. 

Ahmaudd Sankey got the Tornadoes jump-started on their first drive, which he opened with runs of 12 and 17 yards. Bonham finished the job on the next play with a 36-yard rushing touchdown to put Alcoa on the board in the opening 39 seconds.The punt block came on Alcoa’s next possession, but four running plays were unsuccessful trying to pick up a short yard. That swung the momentum in Alcoa’s favor s they scored on every possession but one for the rest of the quarter. 

Lunceford tossed a 6-yard touchdown pass to Brayden Anderson, and Bonham found paydirt from 5 yards away. Their stable of running backs continued to shine with Sankey reeling off a 15 yard TD run and Lunceford throwing for a pair of touchdowns, one a 64 yarder to Taharin Sudderth and the other to Landon Ford with 1:28 remaining in the half to go up 42-0. 

The second half went fast by rule of the continuous clock, and Alcoa was able to only score one time after substituting freely. Aloca’s last score came when freshman Isaiah Bryant returned an interception for a touchdown.  Johnson County was held to minus-four yards rushing in the first half and only 12 total for the game. Sam Mann led the ground game with 10 yards. Head coach Don Kerley praised the senior players after their last win at Cloudland.

“I’m proud of our seniors,” said Kerley. “They have been a good group of kids to coach.”

Kerley is to be applauded for having his team ready to play against the No. 1 team in the state this past Friday. The Longhorns started several underclassmen who will return for next season. The Horns finished the season 5-6.