Johnson County finding first win hard to come by

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   Just call them the hard-luck 'Horns.
   It's been a rough season for the Johnson County Longhorns so far, as they are currently 0-3 on the year.
   But if you're ready to write off Mike Atwood's football team, you better think twice.
   Johnson County could easily be 2-1 right now. Turnovers proved to be costly in a loss against Sullivan Central, and a two-point conversion was the difference against Hampton.
   In both of those games, Johnson County's defense has proven its mettle.
   The Longhorns gave up less yards than Sullivan Central's defense, and they only allowed one touchdown in an 8-7 loss to Hampton Friday night.
   It frustrates Atwood that his team can't get a win after playing so hard, especially on defense.
   "We've been on the short end of the stick the past two games, and I felt like our defense played good enough to win," Atwood said after the Hampton game. "Our boys are just going to have to find something to get over the hump. I don't know what it is. We're going to have to get some guts and a little bit of character to win a ball game like that. Our defense has played too good to be 0-3."
   Atwood says it's a team game, so even though the defense has played as well as anybody's this year, the Longhorns win as a team and lose as a team.
   "They feel like they've played good enough to win, too," Atwood said. "There's no dissension on the team or nothing, it's a total team effort. We know we've got to get some character about us and win a ball game."
   The defense is playing well, but it would be unfair to blame the offense for the 0-3 start. The Longhorns just happen to be a banged up team.
   Jonah Dunn and Matt Pass were injured in the Hampton contest, while Daniel Cranford missed the game with the Bulldogs due to injury.
   Aaron Payne did a nice job stepping in for those guys in the backfield, as he had Johnson County's only touchdown of the night. His 48-yard score put Johnson County up first, and the Bulldogs were forced to play catch-up.
   Still, Atwood knows that injuries have hurt Johnson County, especially on offense.
   "Our fullback (Pass) went out maybe the first or second play," Atwood said. "And Jonah couldn't come back in. We're banged up bad. But still, you got to win games you've got a chance to win no matter who is hurt."
   While the offense is still trying to shake off the cobwebs, this Longhorn defense is one of the premier units in the Mountain Lakes Conference.
   It's a unit that features an all-state candidate in defensive end Justin Bishop. He has 38 tackles so far on the young season.
   Also stepping up big time have been linebackers like Payne and Adam Leonard.
   "Leonard and Bishop really stepped up and played well," Atwood said. "I hate it for them because they played good enough to win. They played hard enough to win. They're the team leaders, and we're just going to have to get on their backs and have them carry us I guess. Somebody is going to have to step on offense if we're going to have a chance to win a ball game."
   Another player that stepped up on defense against Hampton is a guy who has been the most dominant player on offense. That is Adam M. Johnson.
   The Longhorn quarterback led Johnson County in rushing during the South Greene and Sullivan Central games, but his speed and strength had to be used in another way on Friday night.
   With Cranford out at strong safety, Johnson moved into that position. Johnson was held in check on offense, but still gave a great effort on both sides of the ball.
   "He played hard," Atwood said. "We hate to play him both ways. We had a few injuries, and he had to step in and play. That's life and that's football."
   Another bright spot on Friday night happened to be the kicking game.
   Special teams had not been a strong point of the Longhorn team, but that all changed with a guy not on the Longhorns' media day roster.
   Ian Prudhoume had several strong punts for Johnson County against the Bulldogs, and he also kicked an extra point.
   "He's been with us, but he's never played football before," Atwood said. "(Friday) was actually his first varsity game. He's a soccer player. We had to go with it. Our kicking game is horrible, and it got a little bit better (Friday night)."
   The Longhorns have a very good chance to turn their season around the next four weeks. Johnson County at this point could probably be a considered a favorite in its next four games with that strong defense.
   "We feel like we have a chance to win any game we play," Atwood said. "These four we're going to have to turn it around or we're going to be in for a long season."
   And judging by the performance in the last two games, I do believe the pieces are in place for a turnaround.
   LONGHORN NOTES:
   *Some good news happened this week to a former Longhorn great. East Tennessee State reserve tight end Adam Cranford was named 'Buc of the week" by the ETSU coaching staff.
   * In other Longhorn sports news, Johnson County golf standout Matt Cornett hit a hole-in-one at Thursday's Watauga Conference Golf Championship. The Johnson County golf team is one of the most improved golf teams in the area, and the Longhorns even have a win over Watauga powerhouse Elizabethton this season.