By Tim Chambers
The traffic heading around Watauga Lake down to Hampton will be very congested on Friday night starting at 5:30 pm. The Longhorns will make the 30 miles journey down to Big Blue Country looking to try and avenge their only regular-season loss in 2018.
Hampton spoiled what would have been another perfect 10-0 regular season by winning a hard-fought 20-19 contest inside of Paul McEwen Stadium. The Horns would win their final eight regular-season games before losing 36-33 to Gatlinburg-Pittman in the first round of the 3A state playoffs.
The win allowed the Bulldogs to extend the all-time series advantage over Hampton to 37-32. The Longhorns won 20-8 in their last meeting at J.C. Campbell Stadium in 2017.
The Horns fell behind early in last year’s contest and had to dig themselves out of a hole. The Bulldogs jumped on top 14-0 in the first quarter only to watch Johnson County score 19 unanswered points to grab a 19-14 lead with six minutes to go in the game.
Turnovers led to a couple of Hampton’s scores, and they burnt the Longhorns’ secondary with a 50-yard pass to set up their game-winning score with 4:58 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“We can’t make the same mistakes that we did last year and expect to win,” said Johnson County’s head coach Don Kerley. “We had a lot of trouble running the football.”
Kerley’s recollection on the game was correct.
The Longhorns gained only 36 yards on the
ground and gave up a lot of sack yardage. And Friday they will be at a disadvantage.
Quarterback Jared Kimble is believed to have a separated shoulder and will not play. Kimble is not only the team’s leading scorer but was a key linebacker and the team’s placekicker.
The Horns will likely move Stacy Greer back to quarterback, and Corie Neely could see a lot of time as a slot back in addition to his wide receiver duties.
The Bulldogs will counter with a team that is led by their sophomore quarterback sensation Connor Johns. He led the team to a 42-0 win over Cloudland in their last game by throwing five touchdown passes.
He completed 7-of-10 attempts for 145 yards and ran for 98 more.
Isaiah Greenwell, Caleb Oaks, Matt Hughes, and Gage Chambers had touchdown catches for the Bulldogs.
Hampton complied 308 yards of total offense while Cloudland could muster only 58 yards of offense against the Dog’s defense.
“We owe them for last year,” said Greer about the Bulldogs. “We all remember the game well, and this is one that we want to win.”
Their late assistant coach Randy Smith was a standout athlete for the Bulldogs during his playing days
and was the starting quarterback his senior year. It’s another reason that the team wants to win the game so badly.
“It’s hard not to think about Randy when we are out on the field,” added Kerley. “His death is something that we’ll have to try and play through for the remainder
of the season. We all spent a lot of time around one another.”
The Bulldogs are 2-2 including an impressive 32-13 victory over Unicoi County in Erwin where they rushed for a whopping 355 yards. They were defeated 14-8 by Happy Valley and lost to Gatlinburg-Pittman 46-6.
Johnson County is 2-2, and both wins have been by one point. They defeated Sullivan East 14-13 and West Greene 22-21.
Losses have been to Sullivan North 12-7 and 14-10 at Chuckey-Doak.
Game time is set for 7:30 pm inside of J.C. Campbell Stadium.