By Tim Chambers
Johnson County fans turned J.C. Campbell Stadium into a sea of maroon on Friday night well before the 7:30 kickoff. It later became their oasis for rejoicing after the Longhorns ended a 40-game drought without a win over Hampton.
Their 20-8 victory was the first since the 2013 season over the Bulldogs who came in ranked No. 6 in the state’s first Class 2-A poll. Johnson County proved worthy of their No. 8 ranking in 3-A which hyped up the contest even more.
“This was unbelievable, the crowd and all,” said JCHS’ head coach Don Kerley. “It’s a big win for us and I’m proud of all our kids and fans that made it possible. I thought we had more people here than Hampton which speaks well for our school and community. We appreciate the way that everyone got behind us tonight. It definitely was a factor.”
That and several other things would factor in the win.
Hampton drove 53 yards on their first drive, but it stalled at the 12 thanks to a pair of open field tackles from Will Kerley and R.J. Snyder.
The most impressive thing came next.
Johnson County took to the air to mount an 11-play, 88-yard scoring drive. The biggest play was a 51-yard pass from Nathan Arnold to Bud Icenhour that gave them great field position at the 27.
Gage Hampton got them on the board by taking Arnold’s screen pass 20 yards for a touchdown. Jared Kimble added the extra point giving the Horns a 7-0 advantage.
“We wanted to score first because Hampton has such a good team,” said Hampton. “I caught the pass and saw the field open up all the way to the end zone. I believe our depth wore them down because we played a lot of people and they had several going both ways. They looked a little tired late in the game. Everybody played a role in this win. We distributed the ball equally and our defense made several big plays.”
The senior running back hit the nail on the head.
The Bulldogs had trouble moving the football against Johnson County’s speedy defense led by linebacker Hayden Osborne.
He collected three tackles on their next drive while Cameron Clawson and Stephen Osborne had a sack each.
Hampton never found the end zone in the first half and trailed 7-0 at the half. Hunter Davenport accounted for most of their offense by rushing for 117 yards on 11 carries but couldn’t find pay dirt.
The Longhorns however would find it for the second time on their opening drive of the third quarter.
Arnold hit Hampton for a 17-yard gain and Shane Greer added two clutch receptions for 16 more.
Troy Arnold’s 4-yard touchdown plunge capped off a 12-play, 55-yard drive that ended with 7:02 showing in the quarter. Kimble’s PAT gave the Longhorns a 14-0 advantage.
Hampton closed the gap to six with a 12-play scoring drive that covered 77 yards. Jason Russell’s 2-yard touchdown run made it 14-8 after Alex Hardin’s two-point conversion with 11:27 remaining in the game.
The pumped-up Bulldog crowd was silenced on the ensuing kickoff.
Icenhour’s 40-yard kickoff return through heavy traffic gave the Horns great field position at their Dogs’ 40-yard line. They followed that up by delivering the dagger.
Hampton had a pair of runs that totaled 21 yards and Greer kept the drive alive with a diving grab on fourth and 10 that moved the football inside the five-yard line.
Nathan Arnold’s 1-yard run came with 7:40 remaining in the game.
A fourth down sack by Jordan Edes-King on Hampton’s next possession allowed the Johnson County fans to start celebrating behind the Longhorn bench.
It’s probably the best feeling in the world at the moment,” said Icenhour. “They scored and were fired up, but we took the energy right back out of them with the kickoff return and scoring drive. Our seniors knew this was the last time we would ever play them so we wanted to go out with a bang. We weren’t about to let this one slip away.”
Icenhour ended the game with 145 all-purpose yards including five receptions for 75 yards.
Arnold completed 14-22 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown. He made no bones about who this win was for.
“This one is for Coach Don because he deserves it,” said Arnold. “We came out here and got it for him. The line blocked extremely well and our defense played outstanding. This was a team effort not just one or two players doing it all. Nobody believed in us to start the year so we wanted to prove ourselves worthy of our ranking.”
Arnold also led the team in rushing with 48 yards on 10 carries. Starting tackle Tristan Dishman said the play was simple.
“We felt like our line could dominate at times,” said Dishman. “We were quicker off the ball than they were. We tried to keep Nathan safe in the pocket and open up some holes for Gage to run through. It’s sweet to finally get a win over them.”
The Longhorns defense held Hampton’s high-powered offense in check. Their speed posed problems especially keeping the Dogs from getting out on the corners.
Osborne led the way with 13 tackles including two for losses and a sack.
“To beat a good team like Hampton is huge,” said Osborne. “They had dominated us the past two years so we had to get a win our senior year for bragging rights. It’s a great feeling winning in front of a packed stadium like this. Now we have to get ready for Chuckey-Doak. “
Osborne wasn’t the only linebacker that racked up double-digit tackles. Tyler Norris finished the game with 12 and RJ Snyder provided 11. Edes-King had 10 tackles and two sacks.
“It feels good to beat somebody who can really play,” said Edes. “We want to win every game on our schedule and this definitely was one of them. We hadn’t beaten them since seventh grade in middle school. We can leave here tonight with a good feeling.”
Cameron Clawson, Nathan Lane, Zack Eller and Will Kerley provided five tackles each. Clawson and Kerley had a sack each.
“I felt like our kids played hard for 48 minutes against a good football team,” said Kerley. “Hampton was 9-1 last year and they very seldom lose at home. To come down here and win is huge. Our seniors, Nathan Arnold, Bud Icenhour, Hayden Osborne, Gage Hampton and Jordan Edes-King all had big nights at their positions. The other kids played well too, especially RJ (Snyder) and Tyler (Norris). Shane (Greer) had a big diving catch that saved us on fourth down and our defense gave up some yards but kept them from breaking the long runs. That’s hard to do against a good back like (Hunter) Davenport.”
Davenport ended the night with 155 yards on 24 carries. He felt like Johnson County’s depth played a key role in their win.
“They were able to anticipate everything we had worked on,” said Davenport. “They did the things they had worked on better than we did the ones we had worked on. They had a lot more players to rotate than we did and that was a factor. We’re young at several positions and many of us play both ways. We only had 14 combined juniors and seniors but we have to grow up quick. We have a big game with Happy Valley this week. Playing a team like Johnson County can only help you get better.”
Jason Russell and Gavin Hardin had 10 tackles apiece for the Bulldogs.
The Longhorns have a short week to get ready for Thursday’s game at Chuckey-Doak. Kickoff will take place at 6:30 inside the “Black Hole.”