First-place Jr. 'Horns turn away Cloudland


STAR STAFF


  It's been a year like none other for Johnson County's middle school football team. The Jr. Longhorns added another convincing win to their collection with a 32-8 Little Watauga conquest of Cloudland Thursday night in Mountain City.
  The Longhorns have left behind a trail of tears for other teams, as they have not been seriously threatened en route to a 9-0 record.
  "This is the best team we've ever had. We can run it, throw it, block, catch, and defend -- it's the best I've ever had," said Johnson County coach Delza Noble. "We had five guys out that were sick, and two who were starters, and the other kids stepped in and played well.
  "I'm lucky to have a team this good. It's the best in the 17 years I've been coaching."
  It didn't take Johnson County long to show its strength, as its first drive of the contest resulted in a 25-yard touchdown pass from Austin Phipps to Christian Prudhomme.
  After a quick turnover with a fumble from Cloudland, the Longhorns' struck again -- this time on a 30-yard run by Travis Grindstaff with 28 seconds left in the first period.
  Johnson County continued to dominate the line of scrimmage in the first half, as its defense failed to give up a first down.
  Being faced with a third and long, the Longhorns' connected on a short dump pass from Phipps to Grindstaff for a 61-yard gain.
  "Austin is going to make a great high school quarterback," Noble said. "He can throw it 40 yards and put it right on the money. We've got so many weapons this year that can catch the ball."
  Two plays later, Phipps connected in the end zone with Grindstaff for a three-yard touchdown reception to give the Longhorns a 20-0 halftime lead.
  Johnson County did not let up on defense to start the third period, capitalizing off a turnover to produce a touchdown.
  A pick from Justin Stanley was returned for 15 yards, as he fought free from being tackled to find his way to paydirt.
  "Justin Stanley had that interception and I thought he was going to go down, but he sneaked it in the end zone and wasn't about to go down," Noble said. "Then he went wild in the end zone and I thought we might get a penalty."
  The Highlanders finally managed a first down toward the end of the third period with a four yard run by Nick Slider, but the drive was stopped after the quarter came to an end.
  "I don't think we were prepared enough and I'll take this loss, and it's like I told them, I didn't work us hard or prepared enough for this game," said Cloudland coach Jon Julian. "They've got a great coaching staff and you've got to be on top of your game, even if they don't have a great team."
  Johnson County added its last touchdown with 3:09 to play when Phipps hooked up with Jesse Poteet for 41 yards on his third TD pass of the game.
  The 'Landers finally got on the board with over a minute left, as quarterback Seth Miller kept the ball for an 11-yard score up the middle.
  The 'Landers are faced now with being in a tight race with Unaka to see who gets the bid to play Johnson Co. for the conference championship.
  "We've got Happy Valley Tuesday, which we played six overtimes against," Julian said. "We haven't played Unaka (again) because of the hurricanes we've had, so I don't know how it will play out, but we definitely have to beat Happy Valley to even be thinking about a championship game."