'Dogs aim to solve Longhorns

By Jamie Combs
SPORTS EDITOR
jcombs@starhq.com

   In recent years, the Johnson County Longhorns have been to the Hampton High football team what an exterminator is to a house full of termites: bad news.
   Losers of four straight games to the 'Horns, the 'Dogs aim to put that streak to an end when the two teams meet in Hampton's home opener this Friday night.
   That won't be an easy mission to accomplish, according to Bulldog head coach J.C. Campbell.
   "They looked a lot better vs. Sullivan Central," Campbell said of the 'Horns. "They're big and strong -- impressive. They just happened to fumble the ball against Sullivan Central. There's no guarantee they'll do that all the time."
   Following a disappointing loss to South Greene, the 'Horns (0-2) made some strides during last week's 20-12 setback at Sullivan Central. They definitely had their good moments, but turnovers -- Johnson County totaled four -- contributed to their undoing.
   "We're getting a little better," said Longhorn head coach Mike Atwood. "We're still making too many mental mistakes and turnovers. I think that cost us the game last week. We played hard enough to win, but we just didn't get it done."
   Coming off a huge 34-20 win at Happy Valley, the 'Dogs (2-1) know they have to forget about that game and focus on the task at hand.
   Keyed by the likes of defensive end Justin Bishop (30 tackles), linebacker Adam Leonard and strong safety Daniel Cranford, Johnson County's defense is a unit to be reckoned with.
   "That's probably their strong point," Campbell said. "They're all so big and strong and physical. They'll be tough for us to match up with size wise and strength wise. If we can't outrun them a little bit, we'll be hurting."
   Johnson County's power and size can also pay dividends on the offensive side of the football.
   "If we don't (get physical) on their power-I, they'll run over us," Campbell said. "We'll get in there and try to jam them up the best we can."
   The Longhorn running attack is starting to pick up steam, evidenced by a 181-yard rushing effort versus Central. Jonah Dunn, who's bouncing back from a serious knee injury he suffered last season, gained 68 yards on 16 carries, and quarterback Adam Johnson ran 17 times for 67 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
   "Jonah's just now getting healthy," Atwood said. "We feel like he's about at full speed. Not quite, but almost."
   What Atwood really needs is for somebody to step to the fore as a receiver.
   "We've got to find somebody to throw the football to," he said. "We just have to start making some plays. We've had the opportunity to make a few plays and win games, but we just haven't had anybody to make them."
   Playmakers don't seem to be in short supply for the 'Dogs, not with tailback Michael Peterson (324 yards rushing, 5.9 avg. per carry), quarterback Mitchell Morton (4 touchdowns rushing, 3 passing) and receiver Eric Swain (9 receptions, 119 yards) on the football field.
   Peterson ran for 166 yards and two touchdowns at Happy Valley, where Hampton was down 20-8 but had the gusto to battle back and win.
   "When you come from 20-8 down against a good team like Happy Valley, that's pretty good for your morale," Campbell said. "We caught up without taking much risk and using trick plays."
   Corey McKinney is doing a solid job both at flanker and in the secondary for Hampton, and linebacker Jimmy Sarrett (23 tackles), tackle Adam Potter (18 tackles) and cornerback Morton (18 tackles) are leading the way in defensive hits.
   "This is probably the best team Hampton has had since I've been coaching," said Atwood, who took over at Johnson County in 1997. "They look like they fly to the football real well on defense. They do a few more things on offense than what they've done in the past. They've got some good athletes."
   The 'Horns, though, will be trying their best to avoid an 0-3 start to the season.
   "We feel like this is a big game for us," Atwood explained. "The pressure is on us to win. Hampton's coming off a big win, and I'm sure they're going to be up. It will be a tough game."
   For the 'Dogs, improvement is a must.
   "We tackled like crap in the first half the other night (at HV), but we did a little better in the second half," Campbell said. "We have to tackle better. Overall, we have to do things just a little better every week. If we can do that, things can take care of themselves."
   Kickoff is at 7:30.