By Tim Chambers
ERWIN—What could have been and probably should have been won’t be in 2016. Johnson County missed out on making the 3-A football playoffs for the first time in five years by dropping a 28-14 contest to Unicoi County on Friday night inside of Gentry Stadium.
The Horns were on the verge of finishing second in the conference and hosting a first round playoff game two weeks ago after defeating second place Northview Academy. But some lackluster play down the stretch that resulted in two straight losses ended a disappointing season and left them with an overall 4-6 mark.
“Give Unicoi County credit because they outplayed us,” said Longhorns’ head coach Don Kerley. “I thought we played hard, but we couldn’t get anything going early. I’m proud of our seniors and appreciate what they did for the program. We had a great chance to finish second, but we didn’t play well down the stretch in the games that we had to.”
This reporter tips his hat to Kerley for being modest in his assessment. It was a total collapse in games against West Greene, Pigeon Forge and Unicoi County that led to their downfall. They turned the football over nine times in those games and several were inside the red zone. And they failed to step up defensively which was evident against the Blue Devils.
It took Unicoi only eight plays to mount a 70-yard drive on their first possession. Nick Fender accounted for 64 of those including his 15-yard touchdown run that made it 7-0. But the fireworks continued after that.
The Devils went up 14-0 on a 67-yard touchdown pass from Kendrick Williams to Michael Howell. It was what happened on the third possession that sent a dynamite-like jolt through the airways and ended any thought of a Johnson County win.
A fantastic 51-yard punt by freshman Jared Kimbell had the Blue Devils backed up on their own five-yard line, but it didn’t take them long to find pay dirt just one minute into the second quarter.
A screen pass from Williams to Howell would result in an 83-yard pass. They led 21-0 at that point.
“It’s disappointing because we played horrible in the first half,” said senior defensive lineman Sam Allen. “It hard not making the playoffs your senior season. We didn’t play well, but there was a lot of things that led to that. It’s not a good feeling at all for me.”
The Longhorns managed to score before the half on an 8-yard touchdown run by Gage Hampton. But they never could muster any offense due to a strong rush by the Blue Devils’ defensive line.
Unicoi County ended the game with five sacks and pressured several more passes. Longhorns’ quarterback Nathan Arnold was given very little time to throw which made matters worse. He was sacked five times in the game and forced out of the pocket six more.
The protection for Unicoi’s quarterback was much different.
Williams finished the game going 8-of-15 for 222 yards and two touchdowns. Howell totaled four catches for 168 yards.
The Longhorns failed to put any points on the board in the third quarter after the defense had held the Blue Devils scoreless.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week’s Tomahawk.