'Horns look to set the tone for next season

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   When the Sullivan South Rebels and the Johnson County Longhorns take the field in the regular-season finale on Friday night at Death Valley, it will be two teams playing for two totally different reasons.
   For the Rebels, it will be a chance to possibly improve on playoff seeding. For the Longhorns, it will be for pride.
   The Rebels are only 4-5 overall, but have a 4-2 Mountain Lakes mark. The Longhorns are now 1-8 overall and 1-5 in the Mountain Lakes.
   Sullivan South will be the heavy favorite in this one, but last week's Mountain Lakes action showed that there are no sure wins.
   Johnson County head coach Mike Atwood pointed to Sullivan Central's shocking victory over Elizabethton last Thursday night as one instance where the underdog won.
   "Anything can happen," Atwood said. "Central's got a good team, so it wasn't a real big surprise. But just because you're supposed to lose doesn't mean you have to."
   This game could have a big say in the Mountain Lakes playoff race. A Johnson County upset and a Sullivan Central victory over Daniel Boone would put Elizabethton on the road in the first round of the TSSAA playoffs.
   Sullivan South could finish as high as second if the Rebels win and Unicoi County upsets the Cyclones.
   Atwood says that the Longhorns are not concerned with who goes where in the playoffs. Instead, they are more worried about getting some confidence for next season.
   "We're just trying to win our last game," Atwood said. "We're not looking to hurt anybody's season, we're just trying to help ourselves for next year."
   If the Longhorn defense plays as well as it did last week, South may have a hard time getting its overall record to .500.
   Johnson County's defense played very respectably in a 31-0 loss to Mountain Lakes champion Tennessee High last week. Seniors Justin Bishop and Adam Leonard really stepped up for the Longhorns, as they tallied 14 and 10 tackles, respectively.
   "We've got a great group of seniors, and they all want to make a statement," Atwood said. "Those two especially have been playing hard all year."
   The offensive woes for the Longhorns have been well-documented. Johnson County has only scored three touchdowns in a game once this season, and Atwood says that has been the biggest problem in 2002.
   "We're more concerned with our offense right now," Atwood said. "We feel like we can hold our own on defense, but you have to score some points or it doesn't matter what you do on defense."
   The Longhorn defense will be tested by tailback Aaron Robinette. He rushed for a school-record 290 yards and scored four touchdowns in South's convincing 28-6 win over Sullivan East last week in Bluff City.
   "Robinette is hard to stop," Atwood said. "We need to stop him and (wingback) Robert Davenport. He looks pretty solid from what we've seen on film.
   South runs the Wing-T, an offense that Atwood considers to be extremely tough to stop if you can run it well.
   "We're just going to try and find a way to mess it up a little bit," he said.
   South's defense has been playing better of late. Last year, the Rebels held the Longhorns scoreless, which is on the mind of Atwood.
   "On defense, they're basically about the same," Atwood said. "They'll try to do a lot of the same things. We look for a solid defense."
   The Longhorns are mostly just playing this one for some confidence going into next season. It's been a tough year in Mountain City, but things seem to be looking up for the Longhorns.
   Johnson County has a lot of talented young players, so Atwood hopes that there won't be too many more 1-8 seasons.
   "Our junior varsity and freshmen teams have had good years," Atwood said. "We're looking forward to the next few years. We feel like we're going to field a competitive team."
   But as for this group of seniors, Atwood wants to send them out on a high note.
   "It would be a big win," he said. "We feel like we deserve a win. We're just looking to play hard and see what happens."
   Gametime is at 7:30.