Either 'Horns or Pats to get second win

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   BLUFF CITY--It's been a rough season for the Johnson County football team, but Longhorn head coach Mike Atwood knows he doesn't have it as rough as Sullivan East head coach Ralph Nelson does this week.
   Mold found inside Sullivan East High School made local headlines, and forced the school to shut down. But the game between the Longhorns and the Patriots will go on as scheduled Friday night at Sullivan East.
   Kickoff is at 7:30. Both teams enter the contest 1-5 overall and 1-2 in the Mountain Lakes.
   Coach Atwood thought what was going on in Bluff City this week puts what has been a tough season in perspective.
   "It could be worse," Atwood said.
   Even though it has been a tough situation for Sullivan East, Atwood doesn't expect it to adversely affect either team.
   "I don't think it will affect them negatively," Atwood said. "It won't hurt them. We might have to get dressed in a tent, but it won't hurt us in any way."
   Nelson says his team trying to keep a positive outlook on the whole ordeal.
   "Our team has a good core of senior leaders," Nelson said. "We've literally set up tents so they'll have a warm place to dress, and we've set up port-a-potties. We're trying to make the best of what we can. We're staying focused. "
   Moving on to the game itself, Atwood knows that despite the Patriots record, this team is a lot better than in years past.
   The Patriots may have lost to Elizabethton last week 48-20, but the Cyclone players and coaches admitted that this was a much improved Patriot squad.
   Tailback Josh Wright rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns in the contest against the Cyclones, and Donnie Rader added 66 yards on the ground.
   Quarterback Matt Eads has also made great strides this season, so Atwood knows what the Patriot offense is capable of.
   "They look good on film," Atwood said. "They really execute their offense well, so we will have a hard time stopping them. Other than Hampton this might be the best team we've played so far."
   Nelson hopes the Patriots can keep moving the football this week.
   "Our offensive line has done well," Nelson said. "They're a good bunch. These guys who are seniors have persevered, and they know how to fight. They could have laid down, but these kids won't do it."
   The Johnson County defense has continued to play well in recent weeks, but this could be the unit's biggest challenge to date.
   "East is a totally different team than in past years," Atwood said. "They're probably the best offensive team we've played. Coach Nelson has done a real good job. We felt like we've matched up against every team we've played except them."
   If East can get the passing game going, it could be a busy night for the Longhorn secondary. A defensive back (Junior Paisley) led the Longhorns in tackles last week in a 13-12 loss to Daniel Boone.
   That has Atwood very concerned.
   "You don't want your secondary to make that many tackles," Atwood said. "We didn't play well up front. We've worked on that a little bit."
   Atwood was also very surprised his team gave up two touchdowns to Boone last week, something that hadn't happened since the Sullivan Central game in week two.
   "We weren't satisfied," Atwood said. "We didn't feel like Daniel Boone was going to score two touchdowns on us. But we still had a chance to win."
   The Longhorn offense is showing signs of coming around, and the East defense has given up a lot of points this season. The Longhorns are hoping that this is the week everything comes together on offense.
   "We're going to try and open up the offense a little bit this week," Atwood said.
   One bright spot last week for Johnson County was the play of tailback Daniel Dugger, who had a career-high 122 yards rushing against the Trailblazers.
   "He ran hard and quick," Atwood said. "We just focused on hitting the holes and getting what you can."
   The Longhorns seem to be focused on the Patriots. Sullivan East might have played its best game of the year in a 14-6 loss to Johnson County in 2001.
   This year's game, just like last season's, comes right before a battle against Mountain Lakes rival Elizabethton for the 'Horns. Johnson County may have been looking ahead last season, but Atwood doesn't think that will happen this year.
   "We're not going to overlook Sullivan East," Atwood said. "Every game here on out is the most important one."