Johnson Co. knocks aside Sullivan East

By Michelle Pope
STAR STAFF
mpope@starhq.com
MOUNTAIN CITY--The Johnson County Longhorns appear to be back, as they shut down Sullivan East 21-13 Friday night at Paul H. McEwen Stadium.
The Patriots blasted their way into the game on the first play, with Hunter Crowder intercepting Johnson County quarterback Jeff Brinker's pass to running back Nathan Paisley, and tailback Josh Wright running it 23 yards.
East quarterback Matt Eads drove it 12 more yards into the red zone, and Wright carried it 18 for a quick touchdown. Newcomer Anthony Todd's extra point sailed clear.
"We felt like we had a good chance if we played like we did, and stuck to our game plan and didn't panic," said Longhorn coach Mike Atwood. "I think I panicked on that first drive more than the boys did. I really didn't know what was going to happen. I panicked, but once we settled down, we started playing well."
The Longhorns would not settle with staying down for long. Shane Humphrey returned Wright's 40-yard kick for 15 yards, and Tony Smith drive it another 15. Brinker fired a pass good for 36 yards to Paisley, who ran it in for an answering Longhorn touchdown. Ian Prudhomme's extra point kick was blocked by 5-11 East junior Keith Hughes.
On East's possession, a five-yard penalty, a sack from Adam Johnson, and two missed passes prevented the Patriots from making first down. Humphrey caught Crowder's punt, but was tackled on the catch. However, Johnson County also failed to move the chains, and three East carries worth 33 yards put the Patriots on the Longhorn 25-yard line.
From there, Mitchell Harper recovered a Patriot fumble, and Johnson County was once again in the driver's seat.
"We stayed with the game plan, and our defense played like they were supposed to. They just really played well," Atwood said of his Longhorns.
Smith made two carries worth 14 yards, and Daniel Cranford drove Johnson County 21 yards in three rushes before the quarter ended. East got the ball back on a fumble, and an 18-yard Eads pass to Jeremy Banner proved to be successful as Banner dodged three Longhorn tackles.
Sam Reece made a sack on the Patriots' third down, and forced a punt back to Johnson County. The punt was fumbled on the Patriots' 20-yard line, which Johnson County recovered, and suddenly found itself in scoring position.
"They played physical," said Sullivan East coach Ralph Nelson of Johnson County. "We had our chances early to hang with them. The biggest thing is, we had a lot of guys missing tonight. We just turned around, and next thing you know, we were having to put guys in that hadn't got any snaps all year."
Paisley and Smith drove Johnson County close, and Daniel Cranford took it nine yards for Johnson County's second touchdown. Brinker ran the conversion, and the Longhorns took the lead at 14-7.
"We've been working him some," Atwood said about Cranford playing on offense. "We were trying to keep him fresh for the end of the season. We planned on playing him early, but he's getting worn out so we gave him four or five games off not playing much offense. He's a great blocker and a good player and a good ball carrier.
"We needed the first downs, so we had planned to do that at the middle of the week. I told him he's going to have to play two ways the rest of the year. We're going to have to suck it up and do it. We're going to play our best players on both sides of the ball and just try to get some wins, and see how many games we can win."
Cranford is still getting used to being switched around.
"It's different," he said. "Some games, I get to play a little offense. I got to touch the ball some this week. We went over it in practice. I play both positions: a little bit of fullback, and a little bit of tailback."
Prudhomme's kickoff was good for 42 yards, and Banner returned it for three yards before Reece made the tackle for the Longhorns. The Patriots failed to make the down, and Johnson County drove the ball within 10 yards of scoring, but didn't have time to complete a field goal kick before the end of the half.
In the third quarter, Banner returned the kickoff 42 yards for the Patriots before Prudhomme brought him down. However, the damage was done, and three Wright carries for 26 yards, and an eight-yard Eads pass to Wright drove East within 11 yards of the end zone. Eads kept the ball for the touchdown run, and the Patriots trailed Johnson County at 14-13.
Wright's kickoff sailed 55 yards, and rolled into the end zone for a touchback. The Longhorns made it to East's 40 before the turnover, but soon got the ball back, after two incomplete passes and a near interception.
The boys from Mountain City drove the ball down to scoring position again, and Cranford took it the last five yards for his second touchdown of the night.
"It was exciting, cause our offensive line did really good firing off the ball," Cranford said. "It helps so much when you have a great (offensive line). It just moves the ball down the field so much easier."
Prudhomme's PAT was good and the score settled at 21-13 in Longhorn favor.
Prudhomme kicked a 55-yard kickoff into Wright's hands at the 5-yard line. He was forced back two yards by Shane Collins. Wright pulled the Patriots 13 yards out of their own end zone, but Adam Johnson sacked Eads for 11 yards.
The Longhorn defense remained strong, and the ball was turned over for the last possession of the game.
The Longhorns collected 30 rushing yards, and a 35-yard Brinker pass to Paisley before the clock ran out, and Johnson County won the game.
Smith racked up 106 yards and made seven tackles. Nathan Paisley caught seven passes for 89 yards.
For Sullivan East, Wright made 17 carries for 94 yards and made seven tackles. Josh Tester led the Patriot defense with 10 tackles. Jeremy Banner caught two passes for 59 yards.
"With injuries, and guys missing for other reasons, we were thin on defense," Nelson said. "They're the better team in the long run; they played physical ball, and we didn't make the plays when we had to. My hat is off to them. The coach had them ready to play and they deserved to win tonight."