By Tim Chambers
ERWIN—The 2020 pattern of win a game one week and lose one the next continued for Johnson County on Friday night against Unicoi, and the loss was costly. The Blue Devils kept the Longhorns from earning a share of the conference championship by grinding out a 24-20 victory inside Gentry Stadium. The 3-2 in league play earned the No. 3 seed and will travel to Gatlinburg-Pittman to take on the Highlanders.
Johnson County 5-5 and 3-2 will travel to Alcoa to take on the state’s No. 1 ranked Tornados, who defeated Dobyns-Bennett on Thursday night 20-7. It was the worst-case scenario that the Horns could have gotten because Alcoa has shut out all its District foes and will likely do the same to a team going into the game as a 50-point plus underdog. Alcoa has won 34 of its last 35 playoff games and several state championships.
Both teams struggled on offense the entire night.Johnson County’s leading rusher Stacy Greer was nursing a hamstring injury and unable to run the ball. Dalton Brown was trying to recover from injuries suffered in previous games and couldn’t get going because of a sore back and ankle.
“It’s frustrating not being able to go on offense,” said Greer. “I hurt my ankle again up at Cloudland, which prevented me from running.”
Brown echoed those same sentiments. He rushed for over 100 yards in each of his first two games.
“I believe we have the best team in the league if everyone is healthy,” said Brown. “I’m going to try and play on Friday. I don’t want to miss our last game.”
Their injuries forced the Horns to air it out on offense, and freshman quarterback Connor Simcox tried his best to keep them in the game. He hooked up with Ethan Bower on an out pattern that ended up going for a 55-yard touchdown in the first quarter that allowed Johnson County to take a 6-0 lead.
He would later hook up with Corie Neely in the fourth quarter for a 57-yard touchdown pass with 4:59 left in the game. That put the Longhorns on top 14-10 and appeared to swing the momentum their way. Unicoi, too was bitten by the injury bug.
Starting quarterback, Bryson Peterson left the game on their series and forced them to put in Brock Thompson, who was also injured. But the veteran Thompson saved the day by hitting Caleb Perez for a 42-yard touchdown screen pass with 3:14 remaining on the clock. Miguel Vasquez booted the PAT for a 17-14 lead.
It was the only pass that Thompson threw on the night but saved the day for Unicoi.
“We just gave up too many big plays to them on offense to win,” said Coach Kerley. “It’s a very disappointing loss for us.”
The Blue Devils would add a final score with 2:18 remaining in the game. Nehemiah Edwards found the end zone from 11 yards out to give the Devils a 24-14 advantage. Johnson County did not quit as they took the football and up the field and scored on a fourth and one. Sam Mann bulldozed his way into the end zone to close the deficit to 24-20.
Johnson County tried an unsuccessful onside kick that rolled out of bounds giving the victory to Unicoi County.Simcox ended the night completing 11-of 24 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson County’s defense had the Blue Devils back up deep all night long. The play that turned the game around came after Longhorns’ punter Matt Mowery placed a punt that was downed at the one-yard line as the third quarter ended.
The Devils ran two unsuccessful pass plays, but disaster came on the next play. Edwards appeared to be trapped in the end zone but found a crease on the left side and ran 99 yards for the backbreaking touchdown.
“That play killed us,” said defensive standout Ryan Morefield who led the Horns with 13 tackles and several pressures on the quarterback. “I felt like we had the game until that play.”
That run gave the Devils a 10-6 lead after they had kicked a 36-yard field goal. Edwards ended the night with 127 yards rushing on only 11 carries. Unicoi had 182 yards rushing in the game on 33 attempts. Unicoi’s 36-yard field goal came due to a bad snap on fourth down and a punt attempt by Johnson County that gave them the ball deep on the 17-yard line, but the Horns’ defense held.
Esteban field goal kick was perfect and cut Johnson County’s lead in half at 6-3. Johnson County won the statistics battle. They mustered 323 yards of total offense to 238 for the Devils. Unicoi County will travel to Gatlinburg-Pittman on Friday night to play the No. 9 ranked Highlanders. The Horns will kick off at 7 pm at Alcoa in K-town.
JC 0 6 0 14 — 20
UC 0 0 3 21 — 24