'Horns hope to break  through for first win

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   MOUNTAIN CITY--Over the last few seasons, the Johnson County football program has been used to winning.
   Longhorn head coach Mike Atwood hopes to rekindle those winning ways this week.
   The Longhorns are currently mired in a seven-game losing streak spanning two seasons, and they hope to put an end to that this Friday night at Paul H. McEwen Stadium when Johnson County meets the Unicoi County Blue Devils in a Mountain Lakes showdown.
   Kickoff is once again at 7:30 p.m.
   Johnson County has made the playoffs the last three seasons, but is currently 0-3. The Longhorns lost their last four games last season, bringing the total to seven-straight.
   But those losses have been mostly to good teams. Last year's four consecutive losses at the end of the season came against three teams who advanced to at least the second round of the TSSAA playoffs.
   This year, Johnson County has lost to tradition-rich South Greene, Mountain Lakes powerhouse Sullivan Central and Watauga Conference favorite Hampton, who is ranked No. 10 in the state this week in Class 2A.
   That loss to Hampton was an 8-7 heartbreaker last Friday night in a game the Longhorns led most of the way.
   Needless to say, Johnson County head coach Mike Atwood is ready to get back into the win column.
   "We definitely need a win," Atwood said. "It's been awhile, and that's our biggest problem. These guys forgot how to win."
   Unicoi County can relate to Johnson County's situation.
   The Blue Devils broke an eight-game losing streak that also spanned two seasons last Friday night with a 33-6 spanking over Class A Unaka.
   Unicoi County head coach Larry Howell was glad to get back in the win column, but still sees a lot of improvement that needs to be done.
   "I wouldn't say that we have a lot of confidence," Howell said. "We're feeling better about ourselves. But we need to do a better job of blocking and tackling."
   With the Blue Devils entering play at 1-2 and winless in Mountain Lakes play, Atwood knows that this is a good opportunity to win a game.
   Atwood feels like the Longhorns match-up with Unicoi County well.
   "We feel good about our chances to win a game," Atwood said. "We know we have to play well or we're not going to win. We've had three tough games, and Unicoi's got a good team also. But I feel we match up with them better than the three teams we've played."
   Despite the three losses, the Johnson County defense has asserted itself as one of the best units around. Led by defensive end Justin Bishop and linebackers Adam Leonard and Aaron Payne, the Longhorns are doing a good job of keeping offenses in check.
   "Defense is the strength of our team," Atwood said. "If we stop their dive we have a good chance. It seems like if somebody scores a couple of times, we're in trouble. We're going to have to play solid defense."
   That Longhorn defense will have it's hands full this week with Unicoi County running back Chris Brown. Brown rushed for 192 yards on 12 carries against the Rangers last week.
   "We're going to have to stop him," Atwood said. "That dive they run is so hard to stop. It's hard for one man to stop, so we'll try to gang-tackle. We'll also keep our ends on the quarterback, because they run the option so well."
   Howell is hoping for Brown to have a big night, and for quarterback Josh Hensley to throw the ball well.
   "We're going to go as far as Chris Brown is going to take us," Howell said. "We're going to throw some to keep them outside the box."
   The Longhorns are looking to cure their offensive woes this week after scoring just one touchdown against Hampton. Atwood knows this team has to put points on the board in order to win.
   "I definitely thought we would have won if you had told me we would hold Hampton to one touchdown," Atwood said. "But Hampton's defense played great. But if you only score once in a high school game, you don't deserve to win."
   Three guys in the backfield for Johnson County didn't play Friday night or went out early. Daniel Cranford and Jonah Dunn should be ready to go, while fullback Matt Pass is out for the year.
   "We've got to get everybody healthy," Atwood said.
   One player that has emerged out of the Johnson County backfield is Payne. He rushed for 62 yards against the Bulldogs, with one of those runs being a 48-yard touchdown scamper.
   "We're not sure what we're going to do," Atwood said. "We'll probably let Payne run it a little more."
   The Longhorns are looking to protect talented quarterback Adam Johnson a little better this week after he was sacked nine times against Hampton. That could include some of the defensive linemen going both ways Friday night.
   "We're going to have to play more both ways," Atwood said. "We've got to do something to move the ball."
   The Longhorns want to put the first three games behind them. They have only lost one game in Mountain Lakes play, and the next four games look like contests against teams that the Longhorns match-up very well against.
   Atwood thinks this would be a good time to turn the corner.
   "We feel like this half is the most important," Atwood said. "You've got to win the conference games if you want to go to the playoffs. We still feel like we have a chance to have a good season."