October 17, 2018
By Tim Chambers
Johnson County will get a stern test on Friday when they travel to John Orr Field to face Cloudland. The Highlanders (7-1) are currently ranked No. 6 in the latest AP Class 1A poll and would love nothing better than to knock off the Longhorns who moved up to No.5 in this week’s Class 3A poll. The Highlanders are coming off a 54-12 away-game win over Jellico while Johnson County destroyed North Greene 57-0 on Friday.
The Highlanders lost to Gatlinburg-Pittman 20-6 in the season opener but have since reeled off eight consecutive wins. Johnson County (7-1) has reeled off six straight wins after losing to Hampton 20-19 in the second game of the season. Both teams have changed a lot of things up since their first loss. The Highlanders are averaging 40 points per game of offense while the defense had held the opposition to 10 points per contest. Johnson County has given up 11 points per game while averaging 33 points per game on offense.
Head coach Don Kerley knows his team is in for a battle. He likes the idea of playing the Highlanders on the road.
“Cloudland has a good football team, and Jordan Coffey is for real,” said Kerley. He’s a good running back, but they have several other good players. We’re going to be challenged on defense trying to stop them, and we’re going to have to score some points. This game is going to have a playoff atmosphere. We know it’s going to be a challenge.”
Coffey is the main cog who brews the Highlanders’ offense. He has scored 16 touchdowns on the season and eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark against Jellico last Friday. But Coffey isn’t the only straw that stirs the drink.
Conner Birchfield has played well in the backfield along with quarterback Malachi Benfield. Benfield threw four touchdown passes against Jellico that included ones of 55 and 28 yards to Triston Lacy and another one to Josh Blair that covered 20 yards.
K.J. Arnold leads the defense along with linebackers Dillon Johnson and Blair. Lacy had a 49-yard interception return against Jellico. Johnson also caught a touchdown pass.
“They’ve got some good football players, but they all play both ways,” said Kerley. “We’re hoping that our depth can wear them down when we get late in the game.”
The Longhorns have its share of big-play threats too. Nathan Lane is one of the leading scorers in Northeast Tennessee with 21 touchdowns. Tyler Norris leads Northeast Tennessee in tackles and tackles for losses. Weston Throop has come on to be one of the big play guys on the defensive side. He has scored three touchdowns, and all have come on the defensive side. Troy Arnold had thrown for 641 yards and ran for nearly 400. Zack Eller had four interceptions and four touchdown receptions of 50 yards plus.
“It’s always a battle when we play one another,” added Kerley. “They are always well coached, and they want to beat us because we’re a bigger school. We need to limit our mistakes and not turn the ball over. Our kids are looking forward to the challenge.
The Longhorns won last year’s contest 30-16 on Harold Arnold Field. Kickoff is set to take place at 7:30 pm in Roan Mountain.