Jr. 'Horns best Unaka for crownBy Seth Butler
Exhibiting a tenacious defensive attack, which allowed only 34 total offensive yards on the evening, Johnson County defeated Unaka 16-0 at McEwen Stadium Thursday to wrap up the Little Watauga Conference football championship and a perfect season.
"Well, you just have got to tip your hat to Johnson County," said Unaka head coach Matt Wilson. "There is a reason they are undefeated. We fought hard tonight, and I'm proud of my guys. We fought our guts out tonight."
"Unaka deserves all the credit in the world," said Johnson County head coach Delza Noble, whose team finished with a 12-0 record. "They played us great, and Coach Wilson had them prepared. We were lucky to win the ballgame, as they came up here prepared."
It appeared early on as if the Junior Rangers (7-4) were prepared to win, as the Unaka forced Johnson County tailback Travis Grindstaff to fumble, with the ball being recovered by the Rangers' Adam Colbaugh inside the Johnson County 20 yard line.
However, the Junior Longhorn defense, which the first string had not been scored against all season, forced the Rangers into a fourth-and-7 situation, where it held Unaka, turning the ball over on downs.
Johnson County then went on the offensive, with Grindstaff carrying most of the load, including 19 of his game-high 104 yards, moving the Longhorns into Unaka territory. However, following a 19-yard pick-up by Adam Shelton, a Dakota Grindstaff fumble was pounced on by Unaka with 7:12 remaining in the first half.
The Rangers were unable to take advantage of the second turnover from Johnson County, as quarterback Dustin Carden's pass was picked off by conference co-player of the year Christian Prudhomme, who returned the ball deep into Junior Rangers territory.
Facing a key fourth down at the 20 yard line, quarterback Austin Phipps, the other conference co-player of the year, used a quarterback sneak to pick up the first down, and then would dazzle the crowd one play later.
Phipps, who appeared to keep the ball on the option and turn up field, was being tackled when he had the presence of mind to pitch the ball to his tailback Grindstaff, who waltzed into the end zone untouched. Phipps ran the conversion try in, giving Johnson County an 8-0 halftime lead.
"If we could've punched it in when we got those two turnovers, I think it may have been a different game," said a dejected Wilson when asked of the missed opportunities in the first half.
The outset of the second half was just like the third period, with both teams battling for field position. However, the real stat of the period may be that Unaka was only able to run four plays from scrimmage in the quarter, compared to 12 of the Junior Longhorns.
Johnson County punched the pigskin in for paydirt on a 4-yard scamper by Grindstaff only 56 seconds into the fourth quarter, upping the lead to 14-0, which was increased by two when Phipps found Prudhomme in the end zone for the successful conversion.
Unaka moved the ball inside the Longhorns 40 on its subsequent possession, but following a turnover on downs, Johnson County began the celebration of their Little Watauga Conference title while running the remainder of the clock out.
Individual statistical leaders for Johnson County included Grindstaff, who ran for 104 yards and two scores on 17 carries. Jamie Lundy ran for 50 yards on seven carries while Shelton ran four times for 34 yards. The Longhorns tallied 230 total offensive yards on the evening.
Unaka's Jeff Peters was held to 28 yards on 15 carries, while Chris Pierce ran for eight yards on the evening, and quarterback Carden was three of seven through the air for 12 yards.
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