Strong start sparks Junior 'Horns past Cloudland

By Michelle Pope
STAR STAFF
mpope@starhq.com
The Jr. Longhorns wasted no time in procuring a head start in Thursday evening's game against the Cloudland Jr. Highlanders. In a contest that ended 22-16 in Johnson County's favor, the Longhorns took advantage of an early opportunity to jump onto the scoreboard.
Cloudland fumbled the ball before its first down was reached, and Johnson County speed demon, Tyler Leonard, scooped it up for a 60-yard touchdown run.
The remainder of the first quarter didn't hold strong movements by either team, and the score at the end of the quarter was 6-0.
"After their first drive, I thought my defense played great," said Cloudland coach Robbie Turbyfill. "For the past three games, it's been the same thing. The first play they run, they score, and it always seems to come back and bite us."
However, once Cloudland got warmed up, it held the Jr. Longhorns to only two touchdowns for the rest of the night, a difficult task in the second quarter, when the Jr. 'Landers were penalized for 25 yards.
"Coach Turbyfill is a great coach, and he's got these kids playing good ball," said Delza Noble, Johnson County's coach. "Those boys have nothing to hang their heads about -- they played good football."
For the Jr. Longhorns, the second quarter yielded another scoring run by Tyler Leonard, who hit paydirt from 23 yards out. Johnson County bumped the score up to 14 with a two-point conversion, and Cloudland seemed to have been left behind.
Cloudland quarterback Jonathan Moore had other plans. Michael Lunsford cushioned the offensive drive with two runs for 10 yards, and Billy Markland added two carries for 13 yards. Moore decided that is was time for Cloudland to keep the ball moving and threw in his own contribution of a 10-yard pass to Markland.
"We barely beat them up there in Cloudland," Noble said of the last showdown between the two teams. "We only beat them six-nothing. We were kind of worried coming in. We were afraid he might stick it to us."
Stabbing the ballooning Longhorn confidence, the Jr. 'Landers followed through with an outstanding play on the verge of halftime.
With only seconds left in the game, and more than 20 yards from scoring, Moore handed the ball off to Lunsford, and hustled to the end zone, where he safely caught Lunsford's returning pass for Cloudland's first score.
Mike Austin ran for two points, and by the time the numbers on the clock ticked to zeroes, the Jr. Highlanders had poked their way back into the game.
"I'm proud of them; we stuck it in," Turbyfill said. "I'm proud of the effort my guys gave. We played well, and made some adjustments, and I thought the defense played well. We ran the ball hard."
Both teams' defenses held the scoring to a minimum in the second half. Johnson County's Christian Prudhomme returned Josh Dugger's kickoff for 14 yards, and Ronnie Roark drove it for 10 more.
As the Jr. Longhorns passed the offensive responsibility along, Eric Burnham made a 12-yard carry, and Phipps kept the snap for 23 yards.
Josh Dowell drove it home for Johnson County with a 13-yard dash into the end zone. A Phipps pass to Prudhomme worth two points put Johnson County further into the lead, at 22-8.
"Offensively we've always done fairly well," said Coach Noble. "We kind of put it together. We hope to finish (the season) strong. I was proud of them tonight."
After a 30-yard kickoff return by Michael Lunsford, and 15 rushing yards later, Cloudland lost a fumble to Johnson County's Dakota Grindstaff. However, the Jr. Longhorns didn't have a chance to do much before the ball was once again turned over to Cloudland.
The Jr. Highlanders maintained possession throughout the majority of the last quarter, cycling through seven first downs. Joint rushing efforts from Lunsford, Billy Markland, Mike Austin, and Josh Dugger moved Cloudland steadily down the field, placing the Jr. 'Landers in scoring position at the 10-yard line.
"I had a lot of contributions from a lot of different people," Coach Turbyfill said. "Josh Dugger, Billy Markland and Mike Austin blocked great. Lunsford ran the ball hard."
Lunsford ran the ball to the 1-yard line, and then made a flying leap over the defensive line for the touchdown. Markland ran the conversion, and the scoreboard showed 22-16. With 30 seconds left, Johnson County quarterback Austin Phipps ran out the clock for the win.
"Johnson County has beat us twice, but that's our fourth loss, and they've lost four," said Turbyfill. "I knew coming in, Delza would have his bunch ready. He always does. I think they have a good team, and I don't see how they've lost four games."