Longhorns, EHS set for key battle

By Wes Holtsclaw
Two years ago, when Johnson County traveled to Elizabethton, Dave Rider Field was almost like a war zone.
In a game fueled with words and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, the Cyclones devastated a playoff-bound Longhorn squad.
Last year, the Longhorns were in the midst of a rebuilding year, but when the time came to host their rival in Mountain City, the squad fought hard. But they couldn't get the job done.
Again, this Friday night, Mike Atwood's squad and Tommy Jenkins' Cyclone squad stand atop the Mountain Lakes Conference tied for first place with Tennessee High and Sullivan Central in a week where all four teams battle.
Elizabethton's already defeated Tennessee High, while Johnson County has beaten Sullivan Central. In coming weeks, the four teams will cross paths again.
But for the time being, this is possibly the biggest game on the Elizabethton and Johnson County schedule.
I know you readers are probably questioning this, but hear me out.
The Cyclones stand at 3-4 with a big conference loss to Sullivan East, while beating the Vikings, Sullivan South and Daniel Boone.
Two weeks ago, Johnson County was toppled by the Trailblazers, while beating the Patriots last week to coincide with wins against Unicoi County and Central.
Chances are, unless Central or Tennessee High can play a successful hand, there could be a four-way tie in the Mountain Lakes Conference.
This week's games also have a big say in the playoff situation, and I can probably speak for most of the coaches in the conference in saying they don't want to play Greeneville or Morristown West in the first round.
So these games mean a lot, and for Johnson County and Elizabethton, this week is probably the biggest. Forget the bragging rights and team bashing until basketball season as both teams could use momentum in the coming weeks.
So who is the favorite? Obviously, Elizabethton hosts the game and with Tommy Jenkins back on the sidelines, his squad is ready to forget about defeats and battle back towards the playoffs.
The Cyclones have more speed in Lester Bailey and Adam Turley, plus they have experience on both sides of the ball and a solid punting game.
But that's not to say the 'Horns are out of it.
A win could be the biggest in school history for Johnson County. They are a young team, laden with sophomores who will have a strong chance to be real competitive in coming years.
Defense has been the 'Horns' big key, and last week they stepped it up against a potent East offense.
Let's say Elizabethton wins this game:
They enter next week's battle at Sullivan Central with their eyes on the prize. They could easily capture the conference title with only Unicoi County remaining.
It would be a good rebounding effort after losing the talent off the squad last season.
If Johnson County wins this game:
They guarantee themselves at least third in the conference. The 'Horns will likely lose to Tennessee High next week, and have a tough test against Sullivan South to close the year.
However, they could defy all odds and show how one of the smallest 3-A schools in the state could play good 4-A football.
Both teams could do it, but who do I think will pull it off? You'll see in a few paragraphs.
Offensive Player:
Jeff Brinker, Johnson County - Brinker threw for 103 yards and ran for another 49.
Defensive Player:
Happy Valley defensive unit - recorded three combined interceptions and two sacks, only allowing 118 yards on the ground against Hampton Friday night.
Special Teams Player:
Brandon Blevins, Elizabethton - averaged 47 yards on four punts against Daniel Boone.
Trench Performance:
Cloudland Highlander front - again paved way for 537 yards of total offense, with 393 on the ground and 144 in the air against Cosby.
Hampton Coach J.C. Campbell (on Friday's loss to Happy Valley) -- "The team wasn't ready to play. You can't play homecoming on a night you've got a competitive game for these boys. They had a lack of concentration or effort or something -- I don't know. It seems like they were in the twilight zone."
Elizabethton's Lester Bailey (on the return of Coach Tommy Jenkins) -- "It helped us to know that Coach Jenkins had a positive report. It was on our minds last game that coach was not doing well. He told us to be strong and we did our job tonight."
(Overall Record 128-37, Last Week 14-6)

Cloudland at Unaka - This is perhaps the biggest game on Unaka's schedule all season, while it's Cloudland's last conference test. The Rangers host their only county game of the season full of confidence behind solid backs in Charles Lee Guinn, Andrew Richardson, Joey Parlier and Brandon Irick.
The Rangers enter this game at 4-3 and know they're bound for the playoffs. They would like nothing more than to knock Cloudland a few notches down from their pedestal.
However, as good as Unaka is this season, the media feels Cloudland has dropped it down a notch by ranking them second in this week's AP Poll. It should be an incentive for another strong effort. CLOUDLAND 56-14
Hampton at Cumberland Gap -
Can the Bulldogs bounce back from the embarrassment at the hands of their rival? It's a question that will be answered this Friday night.
Panther Corey Russell has his eyes on a big win for the Gap's debut season and would like nothing more than to topple Hampton and move up the Watauga Conference ladder.
However, something tells me J.C. Campbell didn't have a lot of nice things to say to begin practice this week. In other words, he'd better see some results. HAMPTON 36-24
Happy Valley at South Greene -
South Greene is a tough team this year, but the Warriors should walk right in and dominate from the first kick. HAPPY VALLEY 44-12
Johnson County at Elizabethton -
Now, who is going to pull out this one? Well, Johnson County will be the favorite next year. ELIZABETHTON 24-10
Statewide Picks
Chuckey Doak 20, Cosby 13
Daniel Boone 16, Sullivan East 12
Cocke County 6, David Crockett 0
Morristown West 33, Greeneville 36
North Greene 13, Jellico 6
Sullivan Central 14, Tennessee High 7
Sullivan South 16, Unicoi County 8
Rockwood 21, Oliver Springs 7
BGA 33, Knox Catholic 18
Central Merry 36, Munford 12
Austin-East 20, Anderson County 14
Crockett County 40, Jackson South Side 18
Melrose 24, Memphis East 14
Germantown 22, White Station 8
Lincoln County 50, Coffee County 28
Pearl-Cohn 48, Maplewood 6
1 - Hampton touchdown scored Friday night
2 - Adam Cranford scores against East
3 - Charles Guinn touchdown runs against Oakdale
4 - Touchdowns from the Cyclones against Boone
5 - Todd Caldwell completions for 116 yards
6 - Cosby first downs against Cloudland