Cyclones tangle with Longhorns

By Allen LaMountain

   A banged-up, offensively-challenged Johnson County squad hosts the Elizabethton Cyclones at McEwen Stadium tonight for a Mountain Lakes Conference clash.
   The two teams are headed in opposite directions, with the Cyclones (3-1 MLC, 5-2 overall) on a two-game win streak and the Longhorns (1-3 MLC, 1-6 overall) riding a three-game skid.
   The 'Horns had been playing tough defense and keeping games close all season until last week, when Sullivan East rolled to a 35-12 win as Johnson County suffered five turnovers on offense.
   "I don't think we want to rely on them turning the ball over five times," said Cyclones head coach Tommy Jenkins. "I have a lot of respect for Johnson County, they have some tough kids. We will try to do the same things that have gotten us where we are. Play solid defense and have a good mix on offense."
   It has been the offense that has let the 'Horns down after a season in which Johnson County made the playoffs in its first season of play at the 4-A level.
   "It's been a disappointment," said Longhorns head coach Mike Atwood. "We thought coming in that we would have five wins at this point, with three conference wins, but it hasn't worked out for us."
   Injuries have played a large part in the Longhorns' woes as junior RB Jonah Dunn came in with an injured knee that was slow to come around, as well as various nicks to the offensive line that is crucial to the ground success Johnson County was counting on.
   "Injuries have really hurt us this season," said Atwood. "I hate it for the seniors who feel very let down. The injuries have really limited what we can do offensively with half of the starting offensive line out."
   Last season Elizabethton won 35-19 as Walter Brown scampered for 202 yards on the ground while scoring two touchdowns, and a repeat performance is not out of the question.
   "We are hoping for good weather with good footing," commented Jenkins. "If it rains hard it may close the gap between the teams a little bit, because it would negate our speed advantage. It would help them play a ball control type game and keep our offense off the field."
   Johnson County has been getting solid play from a defense that had kept the 'Horns in every contest - losing 7-6 to Happy Valley, 8-7 to Hampton, 13-12 to Daniel Boone and 20-12 Sullivan Central - but they may be getting worn down in the process.
   "We have to just rally around ourselves," said Atwood when asked if his defense is wearing down. "We have to take the attitude that we will leave everything on the football field. We don't have a lot of depth, but some of our sophomores are getting playing time, which will help them get better prepared for next season."
   Lack of a kicking game has hampered the 'Horns as well as a PAT in three different contests was the margin of defeat. "We have had all kinds of problems in the kicking game," Atwood remarked. "We have lost a couple of games for lack of a point after."
   Realistically this game is Elizabethton's for the taking, but Coach Jenkins doesn't want a complacent squad taking the field tonight, saying, "We don't ever want to discount a team. My worst nightmare is for a team like Johnson County to have that breakout game, so the coaches stressed all week not to take anything for granted and to play the game with the same intensity we bring to every game."
   Kickoff is 7:30 in Mountain City.