By: Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
Conway Twitty once sang that he was lying around with Linda on his mind. Johnson County has reason to be singing that same tune with undefeated Happy Valley on their minds in two weeks, but that’s unlikely to happen.
The Longhorns play their biggest game of the season on Friday at home inside of Paul McEwen Stadium against (3-3) Claiborne County. A win would go a long way toward securing them a home field playoff berth for the first time in almost three decades.
Head coach Don Kerley knows the game is huge for his squad. He stressed the importance of getting off to a fast start.
“Our kids know what is at stake,” said Kerley. “This game is definitely bigger than the Happy Valley game next week because we need it in order to try to secure a home playoff game. Claiborne lost their quarterback, Ty Stone, before the season began, but his little brother, a freshman, is now behind center. He’s going to be a really good player, but they’ve got some other kids that can play too. They like to run the veer and dive back. Turnovers have killed them and Unicoi County hurt them with the deep ball. But they’ve also showed that they can play when they don’t turn it over.”
This could be a trap game for the Horns if they don’t come out ready to play. The Bulldogs are averaging over 22 points per game on offense. Their three wins came against Middleboro, Kentucky 35-0, Union County 42-17 and Oliver Springs 12-10. Their three losses were to Oneida, West Greene and Unicoi County.
The Horns have put up some impressive numbers too, starting with senior quarterback Nathan Arnold. The senior rifle-arm is closing in on a 1000 yards passing, completing 68-of-102 with only one interception.
Shane Greer leads the team in receptions with 20 for 315 yards, but the wealth has been spread around unlike in past years.
Bud Icenhour has caught 18 passes for 260 yards while Gage Hampton has 17 receptions for 215 yards. Hampton leads the team in scoring with 56 points.
The defense is led by its linebacker corps of Hayden Osborne, Tyler Norris and R.J. Snyder. The trio leads the team in tackles.
Osborne has 64 on the season including a team high seven sacks. Norris has bagged 49 tackles and five sacks while Snyder has collected 43 stops and three sacks.
Another bright spot has been the play of Jordan Edes-King, 39 tackles and five sacks. Cameron Clawson has three sacks and 25 tackles.
Special teams have also been a key factor in the Horns success.
Zack Eller is averaging nearly 30 yards per kickoff return while Icenhour and Greer are averaging better than 20 yards per punt return.
Jimmy Bower, Nathan Lane and Icenhour have two interceptions each. Jared Kimble has been a bright spot punting and on extra points.
“We’ve had a lot people contributing,” said Kerley. “We’re playing a lot of people and that’s been a key in our two close games. It’s great when you don’t start out the season 0-3, because the kids are excited about who we are playing each week. The fan support has also been very good. We need them all there on Friday.”
The Bulldogs will make the 300-mile round trip on Friday to Mountain City and Kerley knows it can have a wear on you.
“It’s a long way to travel but I’m sure they’ll be ready,” said Kerley. “We’re more concerned about the things that we do than our opponent. We have to take care of the football and not give up big plays. If we do those things well, then we feel good about the outcome.”
Fans are advised to get there early for the 7:30 kickoff.