'Horns rise to occasion in overtime

By Michelle Prater-Pope
STAR STAFF
mprater@starhq.com
Friday night's Mountain Lake Conference game between the Johnson County Longhorns, now 2-0 overall, and 1-0 in the conference, and the Sullivan Central Cougars (1-1, 0-1) proved to be the battle that was anticipated.
As Johnson County took the win with a 13-7 score at the end of a suspenseful overtime, it ended a game during which control of the ball teeter-tottered repetitively, keeping everyone on the edge of their seats.
Sullivan Central wasted no time after kickoff, scoring a five-yard touchdown run by running back Zack Frye after a mere seven minutes in the first quarter. Aaron Doran kicked the extra point for the Cougars.
Frye rushed 20 times for 79 yards, leading the Cougars in rushing, and caught two passes for five receiving yards, as well as having two tackles during Friday's game.
Jeff Beverly led Central in receiving yards, catching six passes from quarterback Tyler Harvey for 109 yards, and racking up two tackles.
Harvey showed off his arm with 12 completed passes, and had one interception from Johnson County running back Shane Humphrey.
Brandon Ellison and Chris Likens led the Cougars in tackles with six each.
Sullivan Central had ten first downs, and Johnson County had seven.
Central's loss came as a surprise to many, considering that the team had a total of 240 yards -- 78 rushing and 162 receiving -- compared to Johnson County's 135 total yards.
"We got shafted," Sullivan Central head coach Mike Hooks said. "We didn't have any opportunity to run any offense. It didn't matter what we did. We had call after call after call."
The Cougars collected 10 penalties for 95 yards.
"Basically any time we had the ball, we were going backwards by penalties, so that's what happened to us. In a nutshell, that's what happened," Hooks said.
Johnson County answered Central's early score with a touchdown of its own in the second quarter. Quarterback Jeffrey Brinker pushed through Central's defense for a one-yard scoring run, and with a successful extra-point kick off the toe of Ian Prudhomme, the Longhorns tied the score at 7-7 going into halftime.
"We got a lot of respect from the crowd, and the other people's crowd gave us a little bit of respect," Brinker said. "Winning this game got us a lot more respect from everybody."
Brinker had three completions to wide receiver Jeremy Cornett for 42 yards, with no interceptions.
T.R. Smith led the Longhorns in rushing, gaining 50 yards in 16 rushes, followed by Ernie Hodge's single rush for 21 yards.
Adam Johnson kept the Central receivers on their knees with 15 tackles, followed closely by Daniel Cranford with 12, Jeremy Gerace with 11, and Tommy Gregg with 10.
The score remained tied during the second half, and as the clock ticked to zero, a 7-7 score remained emblazoned on the board.
"I thought our boys just played with a lot of guts and showed a lot of character. We still didn't execute very well on offense, but our defense played great," said Johnson County head coach Mike Atwood.
"Except for the first score, and us coming back and stopping him [Frye] like that shows just how much character this team has."
Johnson County won the coin toss and chose to play defense in overtime. Harvey handed the ball off to Frye, who went in for the kill for Central, but was stopped by Cranford and Matt Pass.
Frye tried again, but was once again stopped by Gerace and Cornett on the one-yard line. As hearts pounded and spirit sticks were tightly gripped, the play that was thought by many to be the end took a positive turn for the Longhorns. Harvey fumbled the ball for Central, and Ernie Hodge made the recovery.
"There was just a big pile of people, and the ball was just lying right in the end zone. It looked like a big watermelon and I just grabbed it and ran," Hodge said of his game-saving play.
Going into overtime, Atwood said: "I felt like we were going to win. I was planning for overtime whenever we turned the ball over. I was going to run the clock out; I knew if we got into overtime, we were going to win. I could tell they were tired and we were starting to take control of the line of scrimmage, and starting to take control of the game."
After Hodge recovered the ball for the Longhorns at the crucial point in overtime play, Atwood ran out to congratulate him from the sideline.
"That was a big play," Atwood said. "I knew that was it. I knew if we stopped them, and I was afraid they were going to kick a field goal. Whenever I saw that they didn't go for a field goal, I knew we were going to win, because I feel like our boys were taking control of the game at that point, and when we got the ball, I knew we were going to score."
Brinker ran the ball for an 8-yard touchdown on the second down, winning the game for Johnson County.
Brinker said everyone expected him to hand the ball off, but he threw the defense off by rushing the middle.
"I just followed my blocker right in, Tommy Gregg, he picked off the only middle backer he had and I just ran it right around him for a touchdown."
Brinker knew that his game-winning play was partly due to his teammates.
"If it wasn't for my other backs, we wouldn't have gotten down the field," he said. "They drove us all the way down the field. We made mistakes, but we came right back with a big play."
Elated by the win and sending congratulations flying in all directions, the Longhorns are eagerly anticipating the rest of the season and hope for the best.
"I was praying the whole time I was on the sideline just to let us win this game," Brinker said. "It turned into overtime, and they put it all on me, and I put it in, and this is just starting the season."