Vikings pose big challenge for Longhorns

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF

   The Johnson County Longhorns lost a very ugly game to Elizabethton last Friday night.
   Don't expect this week's game with Tennessee High to be a beauty contest either.
   It should be another physical contest at the Stone Castle in Bristol Friday night when the Longhorns and the undefeated Vikings take the field.
   Last week, the Longhorns lost to the Cyclones 35-19 in a game that will be mostly remembered for its extracurricular activities on the field. There were seven unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the game, six of which were on Elizabethton.
   In that contest, Elizabethton tailback Walter Brown rushed for 202 yards to make life difficult for the Longhorns.
   Johnson County head coach Mike Atwood thought his team outhit the Cyclones, but made too many mistakes on defense that severely cost them.
   "We didn't tackle good," Atwood said. "He was probably the best tailback we've faced all year. We were out of position and missed some tackles, but he was just too fast."
   This week, the Longhorn defense and offense will have their hands full playing on the best teams in the state. Tennessee High is currently ranked No. 4 in the Class 4A state poll.
   "This is going to be a tough game," Atwood said. "We feel like their defense is going to be as good as anybody we have ever played. We're just going to have to score somehow and play good defense."
   Tennessee High head coach Greg Stubbs is expecting Johnson County to be very physical on Friday night.
   "I think their philosophy is to be more physical," Stubbs said. "They probably want to get after us more so than Elizabethton. Usually when a game is physical, it's a defensive struggle. We've got to make plays or we will be in another heated contest."
   That heated contest Stubbs is talking about is the 23-0 win over Sullivan Central last Friday night. Stubbs was upset with his team's execution after the game, but now is not so down on the performance.
   "We struggled and we didn't," Stubbs said. "We struggled but we shut them out. We fumbled going into the end zone once, and on several drives we stopped ourselves with penalties and missed assignments. But when we looked at the film, we saw we didn't play that bad. Football is a game of making plays. If we would have made a play here or there, we would have broken the game wide open."
   Tennessee High is loaded on offense as quarterback Brad Deal, running back Boodle Clark and wide receiver Chris Maith are the leaders of a dangerous unit.
   "It's going to be hard to stop their offense," Atwood said. "We've got a tough challenge ahead of us."
   The Viking defense has been nothing short of spectacular this season. In addition to shutting out the Cougars, Tennessee High held an explosive Sullivan South team to only six points two weeks ago.
   Linebackers Bart McMillin and Dustin Dickson are very dangerous players for coach Stubbs.
   Atwood is especially worried about McMillin.
   "We have a killer game plan for him," Atwood said. "He looks like he's as good as (Elizabethton's) Vince Redd was, and Redd killed us. He was all over the field."
   Matt Messer and Ryan Baker are standouts at defensive end, while cornerbacks Billy Walden and Steven Hullander, as well as safeties Josh Stickley and Jason Norris make up a secondary that has 15 interceptions.
   This great Viking defense may have their hands full with Longhorn tailback Jonah Dunn. The sophomore had his third standout performance in a row Friday night, netting 77 yards on 15 carries.
   "He's getting better every week," Atwood said. "He's a tough kid. That one face mask (against Elizabethton) I thought they were going to rip his head off, but he got back up and played harder after that."
   The Longhorns could once again be without one their best players Friday night in wide receiver and free safety Tommy Short. He suffered a pinched nerve in his neck a couple of weeks ago, and missed last week's battle with Elizabethton.
   If Short doesn't play, he will be missed.
   "He's our best athlete," Atwood said. "He prevents big plays on defense, and he makes big plays on offense."
   The Longhorns may have to pull off the upset without Short Friday night, but Atwood's team is very confident in its chances.
   "They feel real confident," Atwood said. "They know how big of a job they have in front of them, but there's not any quit in them."
   A win for the Longhorns would go a long way in their quest to make the playoffs. Johnson County currently sits at 3-2 in the Big Eight and 4-4 overall.
   The 'Horns see this as a challenge.
   "They look forward to it," Atwood said. "Whenever we chose to move up, we had a team meeting and they wanted to play the best teams."
   As for the Vikings, they are looking to go one step further in hopes of claiming their first outright conference title since 1973. The Vikings last shared the Region 1-4A title in 1997, when they tied with the Elizabethton Cyclones for the top spot. Tennessee High ended up with the No. 1 playoff seed because of its win over Elizabethton.
   "We're looking forward to out and out doing it," Stubbs said. "No ifs, ands, or buts. That's the way we're looking at it."