Undefeated 'Horns to host Blue Devils

By Jeff Birchfield
star staff

  The first three games of this football season, Johnson County's offensive plan has been simple, yet effective. Run over opponents with steamroller results.
  "We had one game we didn't pass at all," said Longhorn head coach Mike Atwood, whose team entertains Unicoi County this week. "We have four good tailbacks who can run it up in there, but honestly the offensive line is the strength of the team.
  "Our best defense is our offense keeping them off the field. We try to control the ball and control the clock."
  The game the Longhorns (3-0) stayed exclusively on the ground was a 20-0 shutout of Sullivan Central, which one of those good tailbacks T.R. Smith ran for 238 yards.
  T.R. is short for Tony Ray, contrary to rumors around Mountain City the name stands for Touchdown Run.
  "He runs the ball awfully hard," Atwood said. "He breaks a lot of tackles. We depend on him a lot."
  While Johnson County is an old-hand at running the power-I with the occasional double-wing formation, Unicoi County (1-2) is now getting comfortable in option sets under new head coach Drew Pettit.
  They showed promise in a 20-9 opening week loss to Happy Valley, but flourished last week in a 45-22 victory over Chuckey-Doak, the first win of the Pettit era.
  "It was exciting for the kids," recalled Pettit. "They worked hard and deserved it. The team has put in a lot of time and sold out for the program. Any win is a good situation for us at this point."
  All three of Johnson County's wins have been impressive so far, starting with a 46-0 trouncing of West Greene. The strong early season has propelled them high in the statewide rankings, showing the overall power of the Mountain Lakes conference.
  "You have Tennessee High ranked No. 4 in the state and Sullivan East and Johnson County both outside the top 10," Pettit said. "We are about to get a dose of another good football team. One advantage is our older kids have been through this.
  "The thing I notice about Johnson County is they play great defense, really solid defensively. On offense they line up and they're not in it for 80-yard runs, they're happy with four to five yard pops."
  The Longhorn defense is anchored by big Jon Stout on the line. Last season's quarterback Jeffrey Brinker now stars as an outside linebacker, who loves to blitz.
  Replacing him as the signal-caller is Jesse Jenkins, a wideout on the 2003 Longhorn team with 6-4 tight end Mitchell Harper his favorite target.
  Unicoi County counters with Hunter Sparks at quarterback, who has recovered from an injury over the summer. He still shares time behind center with Ryan Scott, the Blue Devil starter at the beginning of the year.
  "Sparks is doing a great job, but Ryan has put in some big numbers while he's been in there too," said Pettit. "We are using whichever quarterback is playing better at the particular time.
  "Neither one is worried about personal accolades, but do what is best for the team. You notice those things as a head coach, how they pull for the team when they aren't in there playing."
  While Johnson County's rushing corps is led by Smith, whom Pettit called a phenomenal athlete, the Devils aren't too shabby at the running back position either.
  Aaron Saylor has been good in the early games with Dusty Stephenson shining against Chuckey-Doak, gaining 133 yards on 11 carries.
  "Our offense's job is to keep the ball out of their hands," said Pettit. "We noticed Smith last week when he came into the ballgame ripped it up. He's a threat about every way. We notice when people make mistakes, they capitalize in a hurry."
  Johnson County certainly made the most of second half opportunities against Hampton. They ended a three-year losing streak in the Bulldog rivalry last Friday with a 20-7 victory.
  "It felt good to beat Hampton," said Atwood. "Our kids get up for that game. Their boys do too. They are buddies with them like we are with their coaches. It felt good to get that win."
  Now the Longhorns will look to keep that undefeated streak alive against the Devils, who enjoyed winning for the first time.
  The history of this game points to a close contest. The last game in Mountain City was a 6-0 Longhorn win not decided until overtime.
  Due to the impending weather threat from Hurricane Ivan, kickoff has been moved up to Thursday night at 7:30 at Paul McEwen Stadium.
  Matt Hill will be there. Will you?