'Horns can't derail unbeaten Pats
By Wes Holtsclaw
BLUFF CITY -- Do you believe in miracles?
Apparently, the Sullivan East Patriots do.
For a second time in school history, East will make the TSSAA playoffs thanks in part to a 29-9 victory over Johnson County Friday night.
"If you believe in miracles you're seeing happen at Sullivan East this season," said Patriot head coach Ralph Nelson. "It ain't over yet. We've got a tough schedule ahead.
"Tonight we locked down a playoff berth, but we've got to keep improving."
For the first time ever, Sullivan East is a perfect 7-0 (4-0 MLC) to start a football campaign. Johnson County lost for a second straight week in Mountain Lakes Conference play to fall to 5-2 (2-2) on the year.
In what was a competitive game early, East played through seven personal fouls by the Longhorns.
"It's a sign of a true team when you can get back from that," Nelson said of the rough play. "Johnson County plays with a lot of emotions and we were able to respond on the field rather than having our tempers flaring."
Leading the way for East was senior quarterback Matt Eads, who racked up 170 yards through the air. Eads was part of two touchdowns a long pass and a 15-yard run.
"It's great," said Eads. "We can't get unfocused. Tonight was a rough game. It wasn't our best game, but we tried to keep our cool considering the circumstances and did a good job."
Neither team was able to get anything going on their first drives. However, the East defense swarmed Johnson County quarterback Jesse Jenkins, forcing a fumble inside its own territory.
The Patriots took over with big runs from Eads and Michael Nidiffer before Nidiffer made a one-yard plunge into the end zone for an early lead.
Johnson County responded on its next drive with big runs from T.R. Smith to set up a 25-yard field goal from Bobby Mounts.
The 'Horns backed it up with tough defense on the next East drive. Mitchell Harper blocked a punt into Longhorn territory, setting up a one-yard keeper from Jenkins to give Johnson County its lone lead of the game.
East rallied back with two big drives to end the first half.
Eads and company had three big pass completions before the signal caller called his own number with a 15-yard scramble.
Later in the half on their first play of the next Patriot drive, Eads hit Hunter Crowder with a 59-yard scoring bomb. East led 20-9 at halftime.
"I thought defensively we had a pretty good gameplan going in," said Longhorn head coach Mike Atwood. "We just didn't tackle good. We were in positions to make the tackles -- we just didn't do it."
Shane Humphrey spoiled the party for East at the beginning of the second half with an interception. But thanks to a late hit by Jeffrey Brinker on Eads, the Pats rallied back to pick up another score, this time on a 2-yard run by Josh Tester.
East would later add a 17-yard field goal from Troy Clark to wind out the game scoring.
The Patriots stepped up to the plate, shutting down the Longhorn running game. With Smith going down in the second quarter with a knee injury, Johnson County rushed for only 53 yards on 29 carries.
"We couldn't make any first downs," said Atwood after his team was held to five first downs for the game. "That No. 51 (Charlie Smith) played a great ballgame. He dominated the game defensively. That hurt us -- we couldn't move the ball.
"T.R. got hurt, Matt Pass got hurt, we had a couple of injuries. That's no excuse. We couldn't keep the ball out of their hands."
Up next for the 'Horns will be a game with Elizabethton at home. East will keep a quest for a perfect record against the Daniel Boone Trailblazers.