Big half by Smith  leads Longhorns past 'Dogs, 20-7

By Jamie Combs
SPORTS EDITOR
jcombs@starhq.com

  In the first half, Johnson County got more than it wanted from the Hampton Bulldogs. Then, like the bass drummer in a Salvation Army band, tailback T.R. Smith showed he's one player the Longhorns can't do without.
  Relegated to his team's sideline during the first and second quarters, Smith put on a show in quarters three and four, rushing for 192 yards and two touchdowns while leading the 'Horns to a 20-7 come-from-behind, non-conference victory at J.C. Campbell Stadium on Friday night.
  "It felt like a bomb had set off in me," Smith said about waiting to get into the game. "I wanted to get it out so bad. It felt good as soon as I stepped out on that field."
  Smith, who totaled 17 carries on the night, was one of two Longhorn starters who didn't play in the opening half because of disciplinary reasons. Running back/linebacker Jeffrey Brinker was the other, and Brinker came on to make a Johnson County-high 10 tackles as the Mountain City squad overcame a 7-0 halftime deficit.
  "I think we gave Johnson County a pretty good fit for a while," said Bulldog coach J.C. Campbell. "Now, Johnson County's a pretty good ball club. I think we've improved in the last two weeks -- we didn't show it last week -- but we just don't have any depth. We get wore down. You reach for somebody to put in there and you don't have him."
  Improving to 3-0 for the first time since starting 6-0 in 1983, the 'Horns sprung to life Friday night after being raked over the coals a bit by Johnson County coach Mike Atwood and his assistants during intermission.
  "We are building some momentum," said Atwood, whose team broke a modest two-game losing streak to the 'Dogs (1-2). "We were playing hard but we weren't playing smart (in the first half). We didn't do what we were supposed to do on defense, and we didn't do what we were trying to do on offense.
  "We (the JC coaching staff) gave them (the JC players) a pretty good going over in the locker room, and they came out and responded like men. I can't say enough about Jeffrey and T.R. They came out and really made a difference in the ballgame."
  Following a three-and-out by the 'Dogs to begin the third quarter -- Brinker dropped Cody Walsh for a 10-yard loss on first down -- Johnson County handed the ball to Smith four straight times, resulting in gains of 11, 24, 27 and 10 yards -- the last run going for a touchdown. The extra point try sailed wide left, and Hampton still had the edge at 7-6.
  That lead would vanish less than three minutes later. After Hampton gained two yards on its next three plays, Mitchell Harper blocked and recovered a Bulldog punt to put the 'Horns back in business. Smith immediately followed with another 10-yard TD run, providing Johnson County a 12-7 advantage.
  "Mitchell made big plays for us all night," Atwood said. "He made a great catch on a pass play, then the punt block. He holds down the middle (of the defensive line) pretty good. But the punt block really turned the momentum."
  Refusing to quit, Hampton marched from its own 26 to the Johnson County 19, but a holding penalty caused the drive to fizzle.
  From there, Smith carried six more consecutive times for 64 yards before Jesse Jenkins floated a 7-yard, fourth-quarter scoring toss to Shane Humphrey. Smith then ran for a two-point conversion.
  "Everybody's been talking bad about us -- not giving us any respect all this year, and I doubt they will the rest of the year," Smith said. "But me and my line, we're confident in ourselves. And if we think we're going to do it, we're going to do it."
  While their defense was sound, the 'Horns did surrender their first points of the season when Zack Crabtree lofted a 24-yard, second-quarter scoring strike to Walsh in the back of the end zone. Walsh, who outplayed a defender to make the grab, followed up with the extra point.
  "I probably get more frustrated playing Hampton than I do anybody else," Atwood said. "They do a good job."
  Johnson County flirted with falling into a deeper hole prior to intermission. Two plays after Ernie Hodge extinguished a Bulldog threat by picking off a pass near the goal line, Hampton's D.J. Oliver pounced on a loose ball that had squirted from the grasp of Jesse Atwood, also on the ground in an effort to make the recovery.
  An official, though, ruled that Jesse controlled the ball long enough for the 'Horns to keep possession and deny the 'Dogs a first-and-goal situation.
  "Of course (the official) was closer than I was, but it looked to me like it was a fumble (to Oliver)," Campbell said.
  Riding Bobby Mounts' fake punt and 13-yard run, which converted a fourth-and-5, the 'Horns didn't give the ball back until they reached Hampton territory. With a Johnson County scoring threat in the works, defensive back Brandon Barnett answered the call for the 'Dogs by snatching his second interception of the season.
  "Everybody came out fired up the first half," said Barnett of he and his teammates. "We were hitting -- we were going toe-to-toe with them. We came out in the second half and let down -- we thought we had it won. They just ran over the top of us. They beat us to death in the second half."
  Said Campbell: "I thought we played hard. We made some mistakes. I made some mistakes, (the Bulldog players) made some -- I guess we all did. I thought our (assistant) coaches did an awful good job of getting us ready to play. Johnson County was too strong. It's pretty tough on freshmen and sophomores playing against a good, experienced senior team. We've got to play with what we've got."
  Sam Reece contributed nine tackles to the Longhorn victory, with Josh Cornett, Thomas Moore and Nathan Paisley adding seven hits apiece.
  Johnson County finished with 324 yards on the ground (44 attempts). Doing his part was Jesse Atwood, who made all 13 of his carries in the opening half to gain 66 yards.
  "We're building up," Smith said. "We have our downfalls, but every time we fumble or something like that we don't drop. We're still working in there, and we still try to keep our heads up."
  Adam Townsend and Martin Winters put plenty of new scratches on their helmets for the 'Dogs, making 13 tackles each. Townsend produced a sack, and Jonathan Potter and Gene Sanchez totaled 10 and nine stops, respectively.
  In addition to his TD grab, Walsh ran the ball 12 times for 59 yards.
  Barnett was asked how he feels about his team three games into the season.
  "We've got a lot of potential," he said, "if we come out and play."