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Longhorns win big over Unicoi Blue Devils 17-7

After a couple of tough conference match ups over the past few weeks, Johnson County was right on target as the Unicoi County Blue Devils rolled into town Friday night. The energy was high and so were the tempers as a largely defensive first half turned drastically in Johnson County favor during the second half. However, as Coach Mike Atwood pointed out, it was no easy victory.
“I’ve got to give them credit they had a good game plan for us,” Atwood said.  “They came out ready to play and they were doing some things we weren’t ready for. The defensive coaches did a good job.  We played pretty good defense, but we just made some adjustments at half time and decided that we were going to have to line up and run the ball right at it and see if we could do anything. We put our heavy set in and we really didn’t do a whole lot offensively. We ran three or four plays and that’s it. They never did stop it so we just stayed with it. If we had any turnovers or anything in the second half it would have killed us. This is a big win for us.”
Unicoi won the toss and deferred to the second half, leaving Greg Roark to receive the ball on the first play of the night. Most of the second half relied heavily on the Longhorns running backs, Patrick South and Jordan Grubb, but receivers like Roark pulled their fair share of yards as well. The Blue Devils earned the first spot on the scoreboard, taking over on a punt and then making a couple of huge passes of their own, including one into the end zone.
Johnson County was quick to bounce back with senior Kevin Dempsey landing a huge 58-yard run off a pass from quarterback Warren Kerley. South took over as the Longhorns closed the gap to the goal line, but even after reaching the five-yard line, a stubborn Unicoi defense forced Johnson County to settle with a field goal kicked in by Austin Kurtz. Now at 3-7, Unicoi resumed control of the ball, but with just seconds left in the quarter, Alex Tressler made an amazing interception to start the second off in the Longhorns favor.
Sophomore Samuel Icenhour was the next to make a big play for Johnson County, landing a pass that carried him all the way to the 27-yard line. Regrettably that drive was also brought to a halt by Unicoi’s defense, beginning a noticeable slump that lasted all the way through the half. The one bright spot was a huge pass to Roark that brought Johnson County out of a tight spot following a loss of yards due to a sack on Kerley. Regrettably, that was the last big play of the night for Roark who faced a knee injury shortly after.
Already trailing in points, Johnson County’s coaching staff knew they had to make some changes at halftime, and as Atwood pointed out, the effort paid off. According to the coach, “Offensively we just went back to what we do best. We’re a power running football team. We just came out of there and played football. Our tailbacks played great. Jordan Grubb and Patrick South really did well. Every time we needed a big play, a first down, those boys would come through. Grubb really ran the ball well. His touchdown runs are just unreal. He doesn’t quit. With him and Patrick, if you are going to tackle them you’re going to pay for it. You’ve got to tackle, you can’t just hit ‘em. I’m proud of them they did well.”
Within the first couple of minutes of the third quarter Grubb was able to steam roll through the Unicoi defense, taking hit after hit, fighting for every inch, and ultimately making Johnson County’s first touchdown. With that one drive the entire momentum of the game changed, and Unicoi became more and more frustrated with their lack of results. From the moment that Johnson County took the lead, penalties and personal fouls began to increase, going so far as to have officials eject one of the Blue Devils from the game. Things got so tense that even some unruly fans were asked to leave the field, but fortunately the Longhorns managed a tenuous control of their temper.
“We’ve got a couple of hotheads on our line as well,” said Coach Atwood. “I’m sure it was give and take both ways, but they decided to get physical and got a little fire in them finally. I’m proud of our offensive line. We didn’t have any missed assignments, but it’s hard to miss an assignment when they put 11 in the box on you. We just really moved the ball well offensively. Our whole offensive team played well the second half.”
Possibly the player with the most right to be upset was lineman David Eller who had his helmet ripped off, but still managed to maintain composure despite the obvious inclination to retaliate. “I was just thinking, I don’t need to get in a fight because we’re already whipping them down the field,” Eller said. “In practice this year we’ve been very disciplined and able to keep a level head. It was really big. I’m not going to lie, in the first half we were really flat, but the second half we just buckled down.”
As the Blue Devils became more frustrated Johnson County did better and better. Patrick South had several big runs, where with the whole offensive line behind him, he literally pushed his way through Unicoi’s defense. South’s efforts ultimately put Johnson County in position for Grubb to make yet another big touchdown in the fourth quarter. Yet, instead of taking all the glory for the win, the junior running back was quick to give due credit.
“I’m feeling pretty good but I give it all to my line,” Grubb said.  “They did an amazing job. My full backs and slot backs put me in a position to make some of the plays I did. It was huge. We came in the second half, came in the locker room, got pumped up, and then just put out the second half. I just try my best every time I touch the ball.”
Even in the last minute of the game Johnson County was making their way well down field before finally slowing to eat up some of the time on the clock. At 17-7 and with just 28 seconds in the game, Kerley took a knee ultimately signifying a dominant win over the Blue Devils.
“Unicoi’s got a good physical team and that was a big win for us,” Atwood said after the game. “We felt like we beat a good football team tonight. They had all their players back and we really had to play well to win. This is the first game that has really tested us where we have come out and won.”