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Region 3A championship game: Johnson County at Unicoi County

Kimble punt

October 24, 2018

By Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
[email protected]

It’s being billed as the biggest football game in Northeast Tennessee. The Tennessee Titans have included it in their top five high school games state-wide. Bragging rights between the towns of Erwin and Mountain City are on the line, and so is the District 3A championship and conference title. Johnson County (4-0, 8-1) will invade Gentry Stadium to take on Unicoi County (4-0, 8-1) where a capacity crowd is expected to be. The Longhorns are coming off a huge 14-8 win over No. 8 ranked Cloudland in 1A on Friday. The Blue Devils were off last week, and most of their players and coaches were in attendance at Roan Mountain to scout. Head coach Don Kerley spoke to me about Unicoi on the night we did the Cloudland preview. He acknowledged what a big game it was.

“They are off the week we played Cloudland so they’ll all be up there watching,” said Kerley. “We know they are a good team and got some great players. They have lots of speed, especially with Lewis and Strother. We’ll have to play well defensively and not turn the ball over. Our offense will have to step up and make some big plays.”

Kerley’s analysis was most fitting for Friday’s contest. Cloudland dominated the statistics on Friday with nearly 3-to-1 more total offense than Johnson County, but the Horns won the one stat that mattered most. They committed only one turnover. Cloudland threw three interceptions and lost a fumble when it appeared they were driving for a touchdown. Johnson County valued every possession and didn’t try to out-physical the senior-heavy Highlanders.
Kerley was right about their speed too. Kody Lewis and Bret Strother are definitely two reasons they should be concerned. It was evident in their win over West Greene.

Lewis amassed 546 yards rushing and four touchdowns. The team totaled 527 yards of total offense with 401 coming on the ground. Lewis has now scored 19 touchdowns on the season. Strother scored a pair of touchdowns against the Buffaloes and is drawing interest from Carson Newman and Tennessee Tech. But don’t count the Longhorns out just yet. Neither team has played a mammoth schedule but have won the games they needed a top.

Unicoi’s opponents have combined for 21 wins and 60 losses. Johnson County’s opponents have compiled a 24-57 mark. The Blue Devils are averaging 38 points per game on offense and have given up over 14. Johnson County is averaging 31 points per contest while the defense is yielding 11 points. The Longhorns rode the play of Nathan Lane and Tyler Norris to victory on Friday. Lane scored two touchdowns and intercepted three passes including his pick-six that was the game- winner with 40 seconds remaining. Norris tallied 22 tackles and padded his Northeast Tennessee lead, but it will take more than he and Lane to stop the devils.

Zack Eller and Troy Arnold have big-play capabilities while Weston Throop has proven that he can make big plays on defense. Expect Jared Kimble, Curtis Lowe, and Stacy Greer to play a significant role too. They’ll need some solid all-around play from everyone because Unicoi is pumped and ready to go. Head coach Drew Rice was quoted saying the following after their win over West Greene.

“I think myself, the staff and these guys just want to achieve our goal of a region championship,” Rice said. “We have talked about it since last December, and now we are just a couple of days away. It’s surreal in a way. I cannot explain how bad I want us to find a way to get it done for these young men. They deserve success.”

Kickoff is set to take place at 7:30 and fans should try and arrive early.