'Horns huge underdogs vs. Trojans

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF

   MORRISTOWN -- Yesterday may have been Halloween, but the Johnson County Longhorns are hoping their treat comes on Friday night.
   The treat that the Longhorns are wanting to put in the bag is a win over the Inter-Mountain Conference champion Morristown West Trojans at Burke-Toney Stadium in the first round of the TSSAA playoffs. Gametime is set for 7 p.m.
   It will be a tall order for the Longhorns. Johnson County comes into the contest as the No. 4 seed out of Region 1-4A with a 4-6 mark, while the Trojans are the No. 1 seed in Region 2-4A, and sport a 9-1 record.
   But playing tough teams will be nothing new for the Longhorns. Johnson County closed its season with Tennessee High and Sullivan South, two teams that are also considered to be among the cream of the crop in Northeast Tennessee.
   "We feel like it's not going to be much tougher," Johnson County head coach Mike Atwood said. "Morristown West is a good team, but so are Tennessee High, Sullivan South and Elizabethton."
   West may be the best team between Kingsport and the Knoxville area. The Trojans showed it last Thursday night with their 41-0 rout over Cherokee, a team that came into the contest undefeated in I-MAC play.
   "That surprised everybody," Atwood said about Morristown West's lopsided win over Cherokee. "Good teams will beat you bad if you play bad."
   The Cherokee victory wrapped up the Trojans' third straight title in arguably Northeast Tennessee's best football conference. But Morristown West head coach Don Woods is now focusing on the Longhorns.
   "I'm so proud of the seniors and all of the players for winning it," Woods said. "But we put that thing to bed Saturday morning."
   The Trojans have plenty of weapons, including wide receiver Robert Kyle. He touched the football three times against Cherokee. He scored all three times, and netted 202 yards of offense.
   "He's tough," Atwood said. "We will have to double cover him. We will try to stop him, but they have so many other weapons. It's hard to concentrate on one person."
   The young man that found Kyle for two of his three touchdowns is quarterback Drew Southerland. He is another player that scares Atwood.
   "Southerland looks real good, and has a real good arm," Atwood said. "We're going to be in for a fight, especially on defense."
   The West defense had a field day with the explosive Cherokee offense. Leading the charge last Thursday night was linebacker Brandon Reece, who tallied 13 tackles.
   "He goes to the ball really well," Atwood said. "We have faced two very good inside linebackers the last two weeks, but he's as good as these two. We're going to have to block him better than we did the other guys."
   Atwood knows that everybody on the Morristown West defense will be ready to play.
   "The defense looks real quick," Atwood said. "We're going to have to throw a little more than we have."
   That puts Longhorn quarterback Adam Johnson into the spotlight. According to Atwood, the former Elizabethton Star Player-of-the-Week is up to the challenge.
   "Adam's looking forward to it," Atwood said. "He's our best chance to win. We feel we have to put the ball in his hands and let him make plays."
   Johnson will be helped by having athletic wideout Tommy Short back to full strength. Short had been suffering from a pinched nerve in his neck, but he returned last week and will play both ways the whole game against the Trojans.
   One player that will not be in the lineup is star tailback Jonah Dunn.
   The sophomore sensation has a torn ACL and a ripped MCL. He will be out for the rest of the year.
   "He's looking at six months of rehab," Atwood said.
   But Atwood has a lot of confidence in his replacement, junior Daniel Dugger. He is no stranger to varsity action, as he scored a touchdown in the Unicoi County game.
   "We feel like we will be all right at tailback," Atwood said. "Dugger has a little more speed and hits the holes a little bit quicker."
   No matter what happens Friday night, the Longhorns have already achieved their goal. This is Johnson County's third straight playoff appearance after making it two-straight years in class 2A. Making it in 4A is a big accomplishment for the smallest school in that classification.
   "Our goal was to make the playoffs," Atwood said. "I don't think anybody expected us to make the playoffs. We knew we had a chance to make it if we played good at the first of the year. We just want to go down there and play hard. We want to do something that we're proud of."
   The Trojans may be the heavy favorite, but the Longhorns have shown this season that they have plenty of confidence in themselves. Atwood has been preaching that, and he knows his team is going to fight until the end.
   "We know we're big underdogs," Atwood said. "They're 11 kids just like us, and they can make mistakes, too. We might be beat after we get there, but we're not going to be beat before we get there."