'Horns-Vikes crucial MLC encounter

By Michelle Pope
STAR STAFF
mpope@starhq.com
As the end of the Mountain Lakes football conference season looms closer, the top four teams once again prepare to face off for the second week in a row.
Tonight, the Johnson County Longhorns (3-2, 4-4) will line up against conference co-leader Tennessee High (4-1, 6-2) at the Stone Castle. Meanwhile, after beating the Longhorns last week, Elizabethton will face Sullivan Central, a team Johnson County took down 13-7 earlier in the season.
At this crucial point in the season, if the Longhorns are able to pull together and overcome the Vikings, they will move from being the fourth-place team up to third, given that Central, 3-2 in the conference and controlling the third spot in the standings, overpowers the second-place Cyclones (4-1 in conf.).
"I think it will be a hard-fought contest," said Viking coach Gregg Stubbs of the upcoming game against the Longhorns. "Johnson County is very physical. They'll come to play."
A team known for its head-on forceful drives and steadfast defense, Johnson County's talent is well-rounded. Head coach Mike Atwood doesn't lean on just one or two players to turn the game, but instead possesses a number of quality athletes that are capable of dealing a hefty blow to their opponent when they unite and play as a well-oiled machine.
Tony Smith has displayed his versatility by leading the Longhorns in rushing with 581 yards, as well as catching five passes. Smith returned a Cyclone kickoff for 75 yards last week, and has tallied three touchdowns this season.
Quarterback Jeff Brinker has racked up 548 passing yards, with a 47 percent completion rate, and also steps in as a valuable ball-carrier. Brinker scored four touchdowns on 171 yards, in addition to perfectly executing two conversion runs.
Nathan Paisley doubles as a key receiver on Atwood's team and valuable rusher, catching ten passes for 199 yards, and carrying the ball for 96 yards. Paisley has four touchdowns under his belt, from a well-balanced mix of running and catching.
"We'll have to be in the top of our game," Coach Stubbs said. "We could be upset. It's been like that for several games now. We've played some tough, tight games, and I don't think this one will be any different."
Longhorn kicker Ian Prudhomme averages 32.9 yards a punt, and boasts a 52-yard kick. He has scored twenty-two points for Johnson County, kicking 13 of 15 PAT attempts, as well as a 30-yard field goal and touchdown run.
Daniel Cranford and Adam Johnson head up the defensive drive, averaging 11 and 12 tackles a game. Cranford straddles the fence with one foot in defense, and the other in offense. Cranford scored four touchdowns in 152 yards.
While Johnson County's scoring is evenly balanced, with Cranford, Brinker, and Paisley scoring four touchdowns apiece, and Smith scoring on three runs, Tennessee High leans on running back Brandon Anderson for the majority of their scoring, but with good reason.
Anderson is the league's top rusher, gaining 889 yards in 106 carries, including an 80-yard long dash. He leads the Vikings in touchdowns with seven, while Nick Howington, Major Canty, and Ezra Valdez follow with four, three, and three, respectively.
Canty has collected 301 yards, and Valdez has rushed for 253 yards this season. Howington has caught 22 passes for a hulking 401 yards.
"I think our boys are prepared and ready to play," said Coach Atwood of his Longhorns. "It's just mental mistakes that killed us the last few games. We've been working on our running game and our defense, and tackling better."
Viking kicker Zach Edwards leads the league's special teams with thirty-one points in kicks alone. Edwards has only missed one of twenty extra point kicks, and has successfully kicked four of nine field goal attempts.
Brinker and Tennessee High quarterback Marcus Nidiffer are closely matched. Nidiffer is the fourth best quarterback in the conference, passing for 576 yards with a 52 completion percentage. Brinker is only a step behind, throwing for 548 yards, and holding the fifth-place slot in the league's quarterbacks.
The Longhorns and Vikings kick things off at 7:30.
"We're just going to have to play a lot better and cut down on some mental mistakes," Coach Atwood said.