By Tim Chambers
In the words of Rascal Flatts, “We’re moving on.” Johnson County’s road to a state championship remained unbroken on Friday thanks to their dramatic 21 -20 victory over Northview Academy in the first round of the TSSAA 3A state playoffs.
A packed house inside of Paul McEwen Stadium watched the Longhorns remain perfect at 11-0. They will now host Austin East (9-2) on Harold Arnold Field in the second round. The Roadrunners defeated Unicoi County 39-0 at home on Friday.
The Horns salvaged its biggest game ever with maybe what will be one of the most talked about plays ever. All-state linebacker candidate Hayden Osborne blocked a potential game tying extra point with 1:20 remaining to preserve the victory.
“We weren’t about to let them steal a win from us,” said Osborne. “Cameron (Clawson) told me to go get it and I did when they doubled on him. Their end or tackle never punched me and I got through clean. I jumped and extended out and felt it hit my wrist. We played great in the first half but it was a grind in the second. A good team has to make big plays. We had a lot of people make some big ones tonight.”
Osborne’s heroics came after Justin Howard had scored on a 41-yard touchdown run that got the Cougars within a point. Head coach Don Kerley wasn’t surprised by his effort.
“Hayden is our leader and a man among boys,” said Kerley. “I thought our defense played well. I thought they did too. They lost four games to teams ranked in the top 10 in 3A and now a fifth one. We had to dig deep to win and we’re very fortunate. I felt like playing at home in front of our fans was a huge factor too. Our kids made a lot of big plays and we didn’t turn it over but one time. That was the difference in the game.”
Ironically it was Kerley that quarterbacked the 1988 squad that earned the Horns’ first home playoff win ever. Several senior leaders made sure that streak wouldn’t end on a night that history continued to be made.
It took a while for the offense to get going after Northview held the Longhorns in check on their first two possessions. The third one however would be a charm.
Johnson County put together a 7-play, 80-yard drive to get on the board first. Gage Hampton capped it off with a bizarre 20-yard touchdown run, putting the Horns in front 7-0 after Tyrone McFadden’s extra point.
Hampton appeared as if he might be stopped but was able to keep his balance and run around a would-be tackler. Shane Greer’s 34-yard reception from Nathan Arnold was the biggest play on the drive.
The bizarre plays continued in the second quarter and Hampton once again was a key player. The Horns had driven from their 16-yard line with the help of a 57-yard pass from Arnold to Greer that got them down near the red zone.
Facing a fourth down, Arnold threw one to the end zone that was tipped into the hands of Hampton for a 26-yard touchdown. That came with 9:35 remaining in the second quarter, giving them a 14-0 advantage.
The Longhorns tried to blow the game open when Arnold hooked up with Bud Icenhour for an 8-yard touchdown, giving them a comfortable 21-0 cushion. The senior signal caller completed 16-30 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns. He factored in 205 of the team’s 385 yards of total offense after rushing for 20 more.
“We had some success passing but they couldn’t stop Gage tonight,” said Arnold. “Our offensive line did a great job blocking and Gage just took the game over. He did the same thing down there against them last year. Hayden had a big game and our defense played outstanding. We’re excited about going to the second round and playing Austin East. We didn’t want our season to end.”
Northview took advantage of a 41-yard pass from Josh Howard to Zeb Petty to set up their only touchdown in the first half. Howard’s three-yard plunge with 1:29 showing left them trailing 21-7 at the intermission.
They continued to chip away at the deficit after Johnson County failed to put any points on the board in the second half.
The Longhorns got the ball near midfield when Stephen Osborne intercepted Howard’s pass after a heavy rush from Cameron Clawson and Will Kerley.
The Horns shot themselves in the foot Barney-Fife fashion with several penalties that cost them valuable field position after the turnover.
They had a golden opportunity to put the game away thanks to Caden Arnold’s interception to start the fourth quarter but couldn’t muster a scoring drive. That’s when the Cougars clawed their way back into the game.
Howard tossed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Erik Chandler after his 45-yard completion to Caleb Cruz helped set up the score. Josh Gomez booted the PAT that left them trailing 21-14 with 5:59 remaining.
Johnson County tried to run out the clock but was forced to punt on their ensuing drive. That’s when a gusty effort by Howard got erased.
He was knocked out of the game for one play after a hard tackle but came back onto the field gimpy. That’s when he broke free for the 41-yard TD but Osborne broke their hearts with his game winning PAT block.
The Longhorns took the final two snaps in victory formation marking only the third playoff win in school history.
Hampton capped off a brilliant night compiling 227 all-purpose yards. He carried 24 times for 175 yards and added six receptions for 42 more.
“We had to establish the running game because they had a very good pass defense,” said Hampton. “We had success tonight running between the tackles and right up the gut because our line opened up holes. This is the best team I’ve ever been on because we all play for one another. It’s a great feeling being undefeated and moving on into the second round. We know our next game will be much tougher.”
Greer led the receivers with 6 catches for 100 yards. Bud Icenhour added three receptions and 42 return yards.
This was big because we’ve tried for four years to get a home playoff game and finally got one here,” said Greer. “It’s a lot of fun knowing that we’re still playing in November and moving into the second round. We have a chance to advance if we can play four quarters like we did the first half tonight. Austin East is really good. We’ll have to play our best.”
Hayden Osborne’s 10 tackles topped the defense. Norris and Nathan Lane added eight apiece and R.J. Snyder logged a half dozen. Clawson, Will Kerley, Josh Herman and Zack Eller stood out with five each. Steven Osborne and Caden Arnold added interceptions. Lane and Herman provided fumble recoveries.
The blue collar work of offensive linemen Jordan Edes-King, Nate Shepherd, Hunter Wright, Dylan Shepherd, Christian Krupsky and fullback Troy Arnold paved the way for 385 yards of total offense.
Howard rushed 14 times for 106 yards and completed 9-of-19 passes for 168 yards to lead the Cougars. James Turner led the defense with nine tackles.
The Longhorns won the turnover battle 3-1.
The Longhorns are hoping to make their win total an even dozen when they take on the speedy Roadrunners on Friday.
Kickoff is set for 7:00 and fans are urged to get there early.
1st Round TSSAA 3-A playoffs
Johnson County 21, Northview Academy 20
Northview Academy 0 7 0 13 — 20
Johnson County 0 14 0 0 — 21
JC—Hampton 20 run (McFadden kick) 4:27
JC—Hampton 26 pass from Arnold (McFadden kick) 9:32
JC—Icenhour 8 pass from Arnold (McFadden kick) 3:25
NV—Howard 3 run (Gomez kick) 1:29
NV—Chandler 18 pass from Howard (Gomez kick) 5:59
NV—Howard 41 run (kick blocked) 1:20
1st Downs 11 118 Rushing yards 27-120 38-200
Passes A/C/I 9-19-2 16-30-1
Passing Yards 168 185
Total Offense 288 385
Fumbles 2-1 0-0
Punts 4-35 3-31
Penalties 5-60 10-105
Rushing: JC— Hampton 24-175, N. Arnold 5-20, T. Arnold 5-6, Icenhour 4-(-1).
NV—Howard 14-106, Grindstaff 9-15, Murphy 1-8, Cruz 1-4, Bromley 1-(-9)
Passing: JC—N. Arnold 16-30-1 185. NV—Howard 9-19-2 168
Receiving: JC—Greer 6-100, Hampton 5-42, Icenhour 3-23, Eller 1-13, T. Arnold 1-7.
NV—Petty 3-40, Trent 2-17, Cruz 2-47, Grindstaff 1-41, Chandler 1-17
Sacks: JC—Herman, Snyder, Norris
Fumble Recoveries: JC—Herman
Interceptions: JC—C. Arnold, S. Arnold
Tackles (JC only, 5 or more) Osborne 10, Norris 8, Lane 8, Snyder 7, Clawson 5, W. Kerley 5, Eller 5, Herman 5