THS huge obstacle for 'Horns

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   MOUNTAIN CITY--Three one-point losses, the lack of offensive production, an abundance of injuries, and a string of three-straight playoff appearances broken.
   All that will be long forgotten if the Johnson County Longhorns can win on Thursday night.
   The Longhorns (1-7, 1-4 in the Mountain Lakes) will try to salvage their season when league leader Tennessee High comes to Paul H. McEwen Stadium for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
   The Vikings come in with a perfect 5-0 conference mark, and their only loss has been to 5A Science Hill.
   Tennessee High will be the heavy favorite, but Johnson County head coach Mike Atwood said his kids have nothing to lose in this one.
   "We're just looking forward to the challenge and the kids are, too," Atwood said. "They don't have anything to lose. I think they are going to play their guts out."
   Despite the Longhorns' record, Tennessee High head coach Greg Stubbs thinks Johnson County matches up very well with his squad.
   "They're kind of like us," Stubbs said. "They pride themselves on being physical. They played us physical last year.
   "Our offense has to get on track early. We have to find a way to move the football, possess the football, and pick up first downs. On defense we have to play inspired. We can't stand around. We've got to get after it."
   This is Johnson County's second game in a row against the Mountain Lakes' most elite teams. Last week, the Longhorns fell to second-place Elizabethton 54-18.
   But Atwood thought his team can build on some things that happened against the Cyclones, and carry them over into this contest.
   "We played pretty good," Atwood said. "We were kind of outmatched. We had six of our starters out with injuries and one was ejected. We were kind of down. We started some people in some positions that they never had played before, and actually we started three freshmen against Elizabethton and that's never a good sign. But they played hard and they never quit. I felt like they made a pretty good showing."
   Atwood is hoping that Tennessee High will play more like the team that only defeated Sullivan Central 22-7 last week, and not like the squad that knocked off Elizabethton 42-20 back in early September.
   The Vikings actually trailed early on against the Cougars, and Johnson County almost beat Sullivan Central earlier in the year.
   If the Longhorns are going to pull of the upset, they will have to contain fullback/linebacker Bart McMillin. McMillin is a terror on the defensive end, but also is capable of big runs on offense.
   "We definitely have to know where he is at on defense all the time," Atwood said. "And when they bring him in on offense, he's going to be pretty hard to handle. He's probably the best linebacker in the league. He'll knock your brains out.
   Josh Walden is another force in the backfield for Vikings, and Atwood is concerned about him as well.
   "We noticed him last year on film, so I'm sure he has improved," Atwood said. "That offense they run is so hard to stop. We'll have our hands full."
   With Tennessee High having such an explosive running game, expect the Longhorns to try and make the Vikings throw the football.
   "That's what we try to do with our defense," Atwood said. "We can't cover anybody anyway, we're so slow. We try to force people into quick throws and quick throwing situations if we can."
   Tennessee High can wrap up the No. 1 playoff seed out of Region 1-4A with a win. It would be the second conference title in a row for the Vikings if they can pull it off.
   Stubbs wants to win out and claim the title outright.
   "We don't want to share it," Stubbs said.
   The Longhorns, meanwhile, want to ruin the Vikings party. It's senior night on Thursday, and Atwood would like nothing better than to send these young men out on a winning note.
   "It's our seniors last home game, and it will be the last time they play in front of the home crowd," Atwood said. It's definitely a feeling of urgency here. They don't want to end on a bad note, and beating Tennessee High would be a very big win for us. That's one of the best programs in the state."