'Horns get past HV

By Jeff Birchfield
star staff

  MOUNTAIN CITY -- Johnson County stayed unbeaten in the 2004 football campaign with a tough 21-14 homecoming win over Happy Valley Friday night at Paul McEwen Stadium.
  "We needed a game like this, something to test us," said Longhorn head coach Mike Atwood after his team improved to 5-0. "I didn't want that good of a test, but we got it.
  "Happy Valley was the most physical team we've faced this year. They stuck it to us in the first half. It showed character how our boys came out in the second half."
  Johnson County got off to a rocking start when T.R. Smith took the game's opening kickoff and returned it 83 yards for a touchdown. Ernie Hodge added an extra point for a 7-0 Longhorn lead.
  The Warriors answered on their next possession with a 10-play, 74-yard drive march. Two runs exceeding 10 yards by quarterback Todd Caldwell set up a 20-yard touchdown burst up the middle by fullback Will Lowe. Casey Shatley's extra-point tied it at 7 apiece.
  The score remained that way through the rest of the half. Johnson County drove down to the Happy Valley 28 on one possession, but Drew Davis ended the threat with an interception.
  In the third quarter, Johnson County twice had the ball in HV territory only to have quarterback Jesse Jenkins throw interceptions. Lowe made the first pick and Greg Swafford returned the second one 48 yards back to the Longhorn 22.
  Ryan Garland put the Warriors on top three plays later with a seven-yard TD run. Shatley's boot made the score 14-7.
  Shutting down the 'Horns on the next possession, HV led by a touchdown entering the fourth quarter.
  Three plays into the final quarter, Johnson County outside linebacker Josh Cornett changed the momentum and the score. Making a perfect read on a slant pattern, he intercepted a Caldwell pass and returned the ball 34 yards for a touchdown.
  "I didn't think about it," said Cornett, who also recovered a fumble. "I just made my drop back in coverage and did what the coach told me to do."
  The extra point attempt failed and HV clung to a 14-13 lead.
  After a fourth down defensive stop at their own 45, the 'Horns made the game-winning drive featuring four runs by Smith and three runs by Nathan Paisley.
  Jenkins capped off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run of his own the 3:27 mark.
  "I wanted to keep my head up (after the interceptions)," said Jenkins. "When it came crunch time, I wanted the ball so I could redeem myself. I felt better about that.
  "We hadn't beat Happy Valley in three years and we hadn't won a Homecoming in three years. We came out with a lot of heart and guts in the second half."
  Ernie Hodge ran in a fake extra-point attempt for a two-point conversion and the final score.
  "Jesse doesn't get down," said Atwood about his quarterback's resiliency. "He's a good leader, a good quarterback. Those were some bad breaks. Another two or three feet, those would have been completed balls."
  The third straight loss and a second close one in a row took an emotional toll on the Warriors, now 3-3 on the season.
  "It's not easy," said a dejected head coach Stan Ogg after the game. "They've (HV's players) had some things happen to them, but with the kind of effort they put forth, they will have some good things happen."
  The statistical numbers slightly favored the 'Horns with a 204 to 190 yard advantage in total offense.
  Smith led the offensive categories with 132 yards rushing on 25 carries. Paisley had 46 yards on only six attempts.
  Lowe with 71 yards and Garland with 39 yards led the Warrior ground attack.
  "It was a good effort," said Happy Valley linebacker Logan Birchfield. "I thought we were going to win, but they did a good job. It's hard, but you have to go week in and week out.
  "You can't get down. Your team depends on you every week and you have to go hard."
  Swafford, who caught two passes for 18 yards in addition to the interception, gave his assessment.
  "The past couple of weeks we've been giving a great effort, but we have to do the little plays," he said. "They are the ones adding up and beating us right now.
  "We had a good drive after that opening kickoff, but getting scored on first does something to us and we have to get that worked out. I don't know what it is, but we have to get rid of it."
  The Warriors will have a chance to end that trend and regain the winning formula next Friday when they travel to Cumberland Gap in a Watauga Conference matchup.
  Johnson County will also be on the road, heading to Gray to face Mountain Lakes Conference opponent Daniel Boone.