By: Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
PIGEON FORGE Nightmare on Elm Street and Freddy Krueger had nothing on Johnson Countys second quarter performance at Pigeon Forge on Friday. The Tigers blocked a pair of punts and turned them into quick scores which led to their 42-27 home win.
The loss was costly to the Longhorns from a playoff standpoint. They will likely travel to either Alcoa or CAK depending on the outcome of their game with Unicoi County. CAK is currently 9-0 while Alcoa is 8-1 with their only blemish being a 20-14 loss to No. 1 ranked Maryville in Class 6A. They are ranked 1 and 2 in the state poll.
The game was scoreless for nearly 11 minutes up until the first blocked punt. Thats when the Tigers would capitalize on the miscue.
Turner Whaley hit Devin Davenport in stride for a 65-yard touchdown pass to put them up 7-0 with 1:23 remaining in the quarter. But history would repeat itself on their next possession.
Brandon Vannoys punt was blocked on the 24-yard line after a Tiger came through the line untouched. Noah Whaley followed up his 23-yard run with a one-yard plunge to up their advantage at 14-0.
It proved to be too big of a hole for Johnson County to dig out of but they did fight back in the second half to make it a close game.
We played hard all night but the two blocked punts hurt us, said head coach Don Kerley. You cant do stuff like that against a good team like them and win. We got down 14 and thats tough to battle back from on the road. But I cant fault our effort. We made it a game and could have maybe had a chance to tie it had we been able to recover one of the two onside kicks late in the game.
The Tigers took a 21-0 halftime lead on a 32-yard TD pass from Turner Whaley to Dustin Shults that came at the 6:32 mark. And to make matters worse the Horns couldnt move the football.
Johnson County ended the first half with only a yard rushing. But all that would change during the third quarter.
Dakota Wright hauled in an 8-yard touchdown pass from Nathan Arnold on Johnson Countys first possession that cut the deficit at 21-6. Samuel Icenhours runs of 14 and 11 yards had gotten them inside the 10.
The Tigers (7-2, 5-1) appeared to drive the nail in the coffin on a 42-yard field goal by Nichlos Sisto that put them in front 24-6. But a couple of big-time plays would put the Horns back in business.
Arnold and Wright hooked up on a 68-yard touchdown pass with 1:34 remaining in the third. Arnolds two-point conversion pass to Cody Bailie made it a ballgame at 24-14.
We started leaving our backs in to block along with our five linemen, said Arnold. We split out two receivers and that allowed us time to throw. They were rushing eight and nine people. We had some success with the extra blockers and kept a lot of pressure off me.
The Tigers got maximum production from their special teams. Sistos second 42-yard field goal extended their lead at 27-14 but the Longhorns would do three better.
Wright silenced the Pigeon Forge faithful with an 89-yard kickoff return that whittled it down to 27-21. They had a chance to shut them up completely minutes later but a 65-yard Longhorn touchdown was called back because of an illegal forward pass. The infraction appeared to break their momentum briefly.
The Tigers padded their cushion at 35-21 on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Turner Whaley to Devin Davenport. But for a third time the Longhorns would answer the bell.
Vannoy hauled in a 47-yard pass from Arnold that set up his 4-yard touchdown pass to Bud Icenhour with 3:52 remaining in the game.
The Horns were unsuccessful on their ensuing onside kick attempt, giving Pigeon Forge great field position.
Noah Whaleys 46-yard run would finally give the Tigers some breathing room in the final three minutes.
The highly sought after running back ended the night with 267 yards rushing on 33 carries. Turner Whaley completed 6-of-12 passes for 133 yards and two scores.
Johnson County got a great performance by Arnold who was only 4-of-13 in the first half. He ended the game completing 12-of-24 passes for 203 yards and three touchdowns. He was 8-of-11 in the second half.
Wright caught three passes for 84 yards and scored three touchdowns. He said the teams mindset was not to give up.
Our coaches kept telling us to stay in the game and play fundamental football, said Wright. They made some great adjustments at halftime that allowed us to make those big plays. We now have to focus on next week because nobody wants to lose their last home game. That happened last year and it was not a good feeling at all.
Bailie continued his solid play with six catches for 62 yards. Samuel Icenhour topped the ground game with 65 yards on 11 carries.
Nevada Woodard led the Longhorns with a game high 17 tackles. Payton Fenner and Alex Tressler added 16 apiece.
We went as hard as we could because we were trying desperately to win this game, said Woodard. Everyone was aware what was at stake. We gave up a couple of big plays on the edge but for the most part we played fairly good.
The Longhorns (4-5, 3-3) must defeat Unicoi County to make the playoffs. A win would give them the third seed. It would also mark the fourth consecutive year that Johnson County has made the postseason.
We had a good game plan but I do feel like we were most focused in the second half, said Fenner. We need to bring that same type of intensity for four quarters next week against Unicoi. We still have a lot to play for. It would mean a lot to us seniors to make the playoffs four straight years. None of us want it to end.
Pigeon Forge 42, Johnson County 27
Johnson County 0 0 14 1327
Pigeon Forge 7 14 3 1842
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