By: Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
Johnson County found a way to turn Harold Arnold Field into a haunted forest and Sullivan East played the role of the Grim Reaper on a chilly Halloween eve inside of Paul McEwen Stadium. The Longhorns football season almost came to a screeching halt after their 19-11 loss to the Patriots on senior night.
But theyve made the first round of the 3A playoffs by the skin of their teeth.
The Longhorns (4-6) will travel to Alcoa (9-1) on Friday night to play the states top ranked team in 3A. East will play at Sullivan South in the first round of the 4A playoffs.
It was a lack-luster performance by the mistake-prone Longhorns offense. Four times they came away empty-handed while inside the red zone and twice they had it on the five and failed to score.
We have kids who are hurting right now because we had plenty of chances, said Johnson Countys head coach Don Kerley. Were down there ready to score four times and cant put it in the end zone. The defense played great but we just had too many turnovers and mistakes. They made plays and we didnt. That was pretty much the game.
Johnson County mounted a nice drive on their first possession but couldnt reach pay dirt. That would set the tone for what was to come.
The Longhorns had a 14-play drive halted at the 12-yard line due to a costly sack but East would give them another opportunity.
The Pats failed to move the football and were forced to punt at their 18. A high snap sailed over the punters head and out of the end zone giving Johnson County a 2-0 advantage.
East (7-3) had to kick off from their 20 allowing Johnson County to gain great field position for the second time. But the Horns shot themselves in the foot again.
They had the ball at the 15 after Warren Kerley had hit Greg Roark on a 25-yard pass play. But a bad snap exchange resulted in a 10-yard loss leaving them stalled once again at the 19.
There was a bright side.
The defense held the explosive Patriots to only 50 yards of total offense in the first half and they crossed midfield only one time.
But all that would change in the third quarter thanks to two huge plays which helped decide the outcome.
Matt Nixon got East on the board with a 52-yard touchdown run at the 10:52 mark.
What followed would be Johnson Countys version of Nightmare on Fairground Lane.
Kerley hit Chase Phillips with a 27-yard pass and Cody Bailie with one for 10 more that put them inside the red zone for a third time.
But disaster took place on their very next play with the football resting on the four.
Jordan Grubb tried to stretch the ball toward the goal line while falling to the ground but the officials ruled he fumbled allowing East to recover at the two. An additional 15 yards was walked off because of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty which didnt set well with Phillips.
That changed the whole game, said Phillips about the call. Jordan was already on the ground trying to stretch out the ball and one of their players kicked it out of his hand. Its frustrating because we should have taken care of business. I dropped a touchdown pass in the first quarter that didnt help. We cant blame anyone but ourselves.
The mistakes just kept piling up for the Longhorns.
Jeremiah Addison reeled in a 33-yard touchdown pass from Tyler White after a Longhorn defensive back fell down on their next possession. That play and Nixons long run was pretty much the bulk of Easts offense.
Its so frustrating because we didnt come out and execute our assignments, said standout linebacker Robert Bower. We gave up the two touchdowns in the third quarter which shouldnt have happened. This is the worst feeling in the world for me as a player. It hurts because we should have won.
The final Longhorns miscue was a fumbled put that set up the Pats final score.
Nixon scored on a 9-yard run with 3:51 remaining the game to make it 19-2.
Johnson Countys only touchdown came on the ensuing kickoff.
Dakota Wright broke free for a 98-yard touchdown return but the two-point conversion try failed.
East ran out the clock after recovering the onside kick.
Kerley managed to complete 19-of-33 passes for 147 yards. Bailie had six catches for 60 yards. Roark added 50 on four receptions and Phillips grabbed three for 40.
Grubb rushed for 68 yards on 11 carriers.
Bower padded his total tackles on the season with a 16 game high output. Fenner had a solid night collecting 10. Tristan Hill and Cole Peters tallied six each.
Sullivan East played without its starting quarterback due an unknown suspension. Back-up Tyler White completed 6-of-10 for 55 yards. Nixon carried 15 times for 100
The Horns will face their toughest opponent in quite some time on Friday. Kerley knows his team is struggling at the present.
I guess were probably in, said Kerley. We may go, well see. I know theyll all want to play. These seniors have worked hard and their crushed about tonight. No one person lost this game. We win and lose as a team. Nothing went our way.
To read the entire article, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.