Jr. 'Horns hand Unaka first loss


Photo by Dave Boyd Nick Papantoniou is set to deliver a Jr. Ranger pass.

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com
The Johnson County Jr. Longhorns came into Thursday game looking for a way to slow down the undefeated Jr. Rangers, and with an excellent second half was able to pull out an 8-6 victory.
This was Unaka's first loss on the season, after being able to run away from the competition it had faced thus far.
"We needed that. We had been struggling all year, and we finally got them motivated in the second half," said Johnson County coach Delza Noble. "They were dead in the first half, so I asked them whether they wanted to be winners or losers, and they came back out and did their job."
Johnson County took the opening kickoff and went nowhere, as Mickey Campbell came through with the sack on Austin Phipps for a nine-yard loss.
The Longhorns were forced to punt, but a fumble on the return gave the ball right back to Johnson County with Cody Tester.
"We made just a few too many mistakes and they didn't, so they won," said Unaka coach Matt Wilson. "It was a defensive struggle and Johnson County had some size that we haven't seen that so far this year, so they pounded us and got some nice yards."
Unaka continued to press with its defense as Campbell and Colt Frazier combined to throw tailback Tyler Leonard for a loss.
After two straight pass incompletions by Phipps, the Longhorns were forced to punt again, giving the Rangers their first possession on offense.
Their opening drive started from their own 20-yard line, and eventually ended up with a touchdown being scored with 3:33 left in the first half.
"I'm just glad teams are now looking at us as one of the teams to beat. In the past it has been a cakewalk for them," said Coach Wilson. "We were 1-7 last year and one of the teams getting trounced, but this was a good football game."
The scoring drive was sparked by good runs from Wilson and Dustin Carden, who converted two third-down situations.
Completed passes from Carden to Wilson and Nick Papantoniou moved the ball across mid-field and toward the Longhorn end zone.
A misdirection play to the left side sprung Wilson for a 15-yard touchdown run, and Unaka led 6-0 at halftime.
The second-half was a mirror image of the first, but with both teams doing a role reversal.
"Unaka has played great so far, and Coach Wilson has done a great job with them. They've beat everybody big," said Noble. "We were worried about getting our butts kicked, but we were tired of losing and pulled it out in the end."
This time it was the Johnson County defense which shut down the Ranger offense, as Unaka wasn't able to put together a long drive.
The Rangers were forced to punt on their first series, as Wilson killed the ball that went 54 yards for a touchback.
Johnson County finally put together a nice drive toward the end of the third period and resumed the movement to start the fourth.
"I tip my hat to Coach Noble. He does a great job and always has a tough team," said Coach Wilson. "There's not an easy game in this conference, and they just came out here inspired and played us well."
The Longhorns had the ball around midfield faced with a third-and-nine, but a Phipps pass to Christian Prudhomme moved the ball down to the Ranger 25, keeping the drive alive.
A pitch from Phipps back to Leonard resulted in a gain of 16 yards, making it first-and-goal at the 5.
Two plays later, Leonard powered in from two yards out to tie the contest with 3:19 left in the contest.
After having the two-point conversion called back on a holding penalty, Phipps was able to come up with a big pass play to Prudhomme for the go-ahead score, giving the Longhorns an 8-6 advantage.
"Our receiver got called for holding on the play before, which I didn't think he did, but we came back and Christian made a great play and won the game for us," said Noble.
Unaka had to start its last possession from its own 21 with three minutes left.
An inside screen to Wilson advanced the ball to the 42, then a 16-yard run from Wilson took it down to the Johnson County 25 with under :30 left.
With just eight ticks left on the clock, Carden was sacked in the backfield by Travis Grindstaff, which gave Johnson County its biggest win on the season.
"I just tip my hat to them. It was a well-played game, and now we've got to get ready for Cloudland next week," said Coach Wilson.