Key MLC tilt pits 'Horns, Patriots
One thing's for sure, the Johnson County Longhorns need a big win in a big way.
After last week's disappointing loss to Daniel Boone, the 'Horns walk into another tough task on the road against Matt Eads and the Sullivan East Patriots in Mountain Lakes Conference action tonight.
It's another game with major playoff implications. A win could give Johnson County (2-1, 5-1) a chance at postseason play, while an East win would clinch a playoff berth.
East (3-0, 6-0) comes into the home battle with a lot of fire and determination despite hard-hitting injuries.
The Patriots lost their top two receivers and got guys to step up in the team's big 20-19 victory against Elizabethton last Friday. The unbeaten unit will be looking for a school record seventh win this week.
"The Elizabethton win was a big win in a lot of ways for us," said East coach Ralph Nelson. "We had to overcome losing two receivers. We had to find a way to throw the ball and we had two long snappers step up."
"This week in practice, we've tried to focus on guys stepping up and filling holes in our team."
A big reason for East's victory was the play of tailback Michael Nidiffer, who had 95 yards on the ground, and the senior quarterback, Eads.
Eads had 171 yards through the air with 48 yards on the ground. He stepped up to find Hunter Crowder for the eventual game-winning TD.
For the season, Eads has completed 54-of-88 for 1,086 yards and eight touchdowns.
"He's been a crucial part of our program, him and this class of seniors," Nelson said. "He's quick and elusive, and he has great leadership capabilities. He's not very vocal, but he's a thinker.
"Last week, he could've got frustrated, but he was able to find other guys. He's the type of guy you want in pressure."
Johnson County had a solid outing from its defensive secondary, which held Daniel Boone quarterback Ben Fox to under 50 yards through the air last week.
It will arguably be much tougher for the squad against East, whom they defeated 21-13 last season.
As far as a game plan for the visitors, Nelson said the team must focus on Johnson County's deep backfield with T.R. Smith, Nathan Paisley, Jeff Brinker and Jesse Atwood.
"All of those guys have a motor," Nelson said. "As a coach, you've got to love the way they play. Coach Atwood does a great job getting his kids motivated.
"They play a different type of a game than Elizabethton. They line it up and it's like it or not, here I come. If you can stop them, you've had a good night."
After a so-so performance last week, Smith still leads the Mountain Lakes with 878 yards on the ground with eight scores.