'Horns play better, hurt by fumbles

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   BLOUNTVILLE-- Johnson County head football coach Mike Atwood liked this one a lot better, but the outcome still didn't go the Longhorns way.
   The Longhorns outgained the Sullivan Central Cougars 234-157 in total offense, but the Cougars pulled out a 20-12 win Friday night at the Cougar Den in the Mountain Lakes opener for both teams.
   Johnson County bounced back nicely from a 27-14 defeat against South Greene in week one, but three fumbles proved to be costly in this one.
   Still, Atwood was very happy with the effort his boys showed against the Cougars.
   "I'm really proud of them, especially in the second half," Atwood said. "They came out and played hard. They played hard enough to win. We just made some mental mistakes.
   The turnover that may have hurt the worse occurred when the Longhorns fumbled in the first quarter on their own 10-yard line, and the ball was recovered by the Cougars. That set up a one-yard Rusty Vance touchdown run to make the game 6-0 with 5:07 to go in the period.
   The Cougars didn't score again until the fourth quarter.
   "Our turnovers were the difference in the ball game," Atwood said. "We had them at bad times. You can't turn the ball over against a good team and expect to win."
   The second quarter was very similar to the Johnson County-Austin East playoff game from a couple of years ago, a game that saw the Longhorns have possession for the entire first quarter.
   Friday night, Johnson County had the football for almost the first 10 minutes in the second quarter. The Longhorns used solid runs by Jonah Dunn, Aaron Payne and quarterback Adam Johnson to keep the ball in Johnson County's hands.
   The Longhorns had three third down conversions and one fourth down conversion.
   Johnson County made it all the way to the Sullivan Central 31 before turning it over after a fourth down attempt was unsuccessful.
   The score remained 6-0 at the half, and Atwood wasn't very pleased about not being able to score.
   "That's what we wanted to do," Atwood said. "We wanted to control the ball and keep it away from them. We did just what we wanted, we just couldn't get any points out of it."
   The Longhorns took advantage of a Central fumble on the second half kickoff, and finally got on the scoreboard.
   After freshman Nathan Paisley recovered the Cougar fumble, Johnson led the Longhorns to the Cougar 14. On third and 12, Johnson looked like he was going to be sacked, but he escaped and ran all the way to the end zone en route to tying the game at 6-6.
   That was the first of two touchdowns for Johnson, who finished the night with 67 yards rushing and 53 yards passing.
   "He played real good," Atwood said. "He's getting better every game. We're just going to have to give him more opportunities to run the football and to throw the football."
   Controversy struck late in the third quarter, as what was first thought to be a Tyler Harvey fumble at the Longhorn 25 was then ruled a forward pass.
   Later in the drive, a two-yard touchdown run by Chris Ferrell proved to be the game-winning score. The Cougars were up 13-6 with 10:37 to go in regulation.
   The Longhorns kept fighting, and with 5:45 to go in the game, went for the first down on fourth and six at their own 20. They didn't make it, and Zack Frye went on to score from 18 yards out three plays later to pretty much put the game out of reach.
   Johnson did put six more points on the scoreboard for the Longhorns with a 3-yard quarterback sneak at the 1:03 mark to bring the game to its final score of 20-12.
   On the fourth down attempt, Atwood felt like had to go for it in order to keep his team in the game.
   "We weren't getting any production out of our kicking game, so we were better off to go for it," Atwood said. "It just didn't work out."
   Dunn led the Longhorns in rushing with 68 yards. Frye topped Central with 60 yards on eight carries.
   Penalties were abundant in this contest. The Longhorns were flagged 11 times for 75 yards, while Central was penalized 15 times for 145 yards.
   The Longhorn defense, led by Justin Bishop's 10 tackles and two sacks, played extremely well in the contest. Two of Central's three touchdowns came when the Cougars started in Longhorn territory.
   The other scoring drive by Central happened when the Cougars were right near the 50-yard line, so Atwood was very happy with how his defense played.
   "You can't ask your defense to play any better than they did," Atwood said. "We put them in a bad situation all night long. I was proud of the way the defense played. We made a few changes, and they really stepped up and played well."
   The Longhorns will look to get their first win of the season next week when they travel to J.C. Campbell Stadium to face the Hampton Bulldogs.
   "It's always tough to win there, and we're struggling right now," Atwood said. "It's going to be a big game for us. It's going to be a big game for our season, too."
   Johnson County falls to 0-2 overall and 0-1 in conference play. Central is now 1-1 overall, 1-0 in the Mountain Lakes.