'Horns achieve much during '02-03 season

By Matt Hill

   MOUNTAIN CITY -- It was a season for the ages by the Johnson County Longhorn basketball squad.
   The Longhorns, miracle run through the postseason ended Monday night after their 61-53 loss to Knox Fulton in the Class AA substate, but not before turning heads and making a community proud.
   The story of this Longhorn team made waves not just in Mountain City, but also all over Northeast Tennessee.
   After Johnson County's win over Sullivan Central in the Region I-AA semifinals, several Elizabethton Cyclone fans were in the hallway greeting the Longhorns.
   Other teams also rallied behind Johnson County. Volunteer head coach Todd Whittemore rode the bus with the Longhorns to Knoxville on Monday.
   Johnson County's fans are the ones that were really proud, as a huge contingent from Mountain City came to support the Longhorns against Fulton.
   It's been a week filled with cheer for Longhorn fans. After a disappointing fourth place finish in the District 1-AA Tournament, it didn't look good for the Longhorns.
   I'll admit, I didn't think Johnson County could recover. After losing two games in the district, I really thought the Longhorns were in major trouble.
   "They don't quit," Johnson County head coach Austin Atwood said after Monday night's game. "When their backs are against the wall, that's when they're at their best, especially those seniors."
   It was the senior class on this squad that didn't want to go home, and it started last Monday night against Claiborne County.
   Claiborne County came in favored to defeat Johnson County, but Matt Cornett had something to say about it.
   Cornett shot 13-of-18 from the field in Johnson County's victory over the Blue Devils. That meant the first challenge was behind them.
   The second challenge was an even greater one. Sullivan Central was up next for the Longhorns, a team they had lost to three times during the regular season.
   Johnson County played toe-to-toe until the end, when senior Jason Poteet nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer to clinch Johnson County's first trip to the substate in 19 years.
   Poteet, along with Adam Johnson, had played just one year of varsity basketball. It was a special thing for all the seniors to have the team accomplish what they did this year.
   "It took a lot of hard work and dedication by two players, Matt Cornett and Tommy Short, who have contributed to this all four years," Johnson said. "Jason and I stepped up this year and did what we could for the team and it helped us."
   The Longhorns continued the journey last Thursday night against powerhouse Elizabethton, another foe the Longhorns weren't given a chance to beat.
   Once again, the Longhorns proved people wrong. At the end of three quarters against the Cyclones. Johnson County led by 14 points.
   The Cyclones came back to win, but not after earning even more respect.
   Then came Monday night's contest with Fulton. It was another game that the Longhorns were supposed to fold in.
   After playing right with Fulton the whole game, people had pretty much knew that this was the best Longhorn team in two decades.
   "It feels great," Atwood said. "It wasn't nothing to do much with me, it was to do with those four seniors, and then three or four of those other boys just giving the effort. I'm not talking about the last three months, I'm talking about when the first of the season starts and they come in at six in the morning. You don't have a lot of high school kids anymore that go three-a-day basketball practices during the school year. I credit that as why we played well down the stretch."
   Sure there were some setbacks during the year, like a 48-point loss to Science Hill and a regular season defeat at Happy Valley.
   But this team didn't dwell on the disappointments, as it had high goals.
   Those goals were accomplished. At the first of the year, Cornett made the statement that this was the best Johnson County team in 20 years.
   This team actually believed that, and the Longhorns went out and did what they had to do.
   The season is now over in Mountain City, with only memories left.
   And for Longhorn players and fans, they will be precious memories.