Longhorns lacked wins, not effort

   The Johnson County football team only won one game during the 2002 campaign, but the Longhorns still fought the good fight.
   Wins may have been hard to come by for the Longhorns, but it certainly wasn't due to lack of effort.
   The final two games of the Longhorns' season proved that.
   The Longhorns closed out the year with two of the Mountain Lakes Conference's powers in Tennessee High and Sullivan South. And even though Johnson County came up short in both games, it was still two very valiant efforts.
   Johnson County played very respectable in a 31-0 defeat to Tennessee High, the league champion. Last Friday night, the Longhorns gave the Sullivan South Rebels all they wanted before falling 21-6.
   Keep in mind that the Longhorns were 1-7 coming into the final two games, and they easily could have thrown in the towel.
   But not this bunch.
   "This bunch never did quit," Johnson County head coach Mike Atwood said after the Sullivan South game. "They played hard every game, and they played hard the whole season. We're proud of our effort, but of course we would have liked a little better outcome."
   Coming off last year's amazing run to the TSSAA playoffs, expectations were high in Mountain City in the Longhorns second year of Class 4A competition. But unlike last season, the ball just didn't bounce the Longhorns way.
   It was heartbreaker after heartbreaker for the Longhorns, and it just didn't seem to stop.
   In week two, Johnson County outgained Sullivan Central in total yards, and pretty much controlled the game. But the Cougars left with a 20-12 victory.
   In week three, the Longhorns led Hampton until the fourth quarter, but a two-point conversion by the Bulldogs was the difference in an 8-7 defeat for Johnson County.
   In week five, Johnson County fell 7-6 to Happy Valley in a game that was decided on a two-point conversion run that came up just one-yard short.
   In week six, A missed two-point conversion by Johnson County was the difference again in a 13-12 defeat at Daniel Boone.
   These were four tough losses that could have gone either way. With just some better luck, the Longhorns could have been 5-5.
   "We've had bad breaks all year," Johnson County wide receiver Jason Poteet said. "I guess we can't get one."
   But the Longhorns should have their heads held up high after this season. They played hard, and the last two weeks have shown that this team doesn't know the meaning of the word quit.
   There were many great stories for the Longhorns in 2002. Jonah Dunn and Adam Leonard's recovery from ACL surgery, the emergence of Aaron Payne, Daniel Dugger's breakout game at Daniel Boone, Matt Dunn's game-winning sack and fumble recovery against Unicoi County, and of course, the All-State caliber season that Justin Bishop had.
   People may be reading this and wondering how I can find anything positive to write about this season. But if you read the last paragraph and have followed Longhorn football, you would see that a lot of good came out of this year.
   And let's face it, almost every time out the Longhorns are up against the odds.
   Johnson County is the smallest school in the Mountain Lakes Conference.
   As a matter of fact, it is the smallest school in Class 4A, and nobody even comes close to matching them.
   When Johnson County entered the Mountain Lakes, many of the experts figured they would be definite last-place finishers.
   The Longhorns have yet to finish last.
   Johnson County has held its own in this league. In the last two years, the Longhorns have a 1-1 record against Sullivan Central, have played Elizabethton to a 35-19 game, have now played Sullivan South to a two-touchdown contest, and have definitely earned the respect of the Tennessee High coaching staff following the 31-0 game this season.
   The future of Johnson County football seems to be very bright. The Longhorn freshman team was one of the best in the Mountain Lakes, and the Johnson County Junior High squad finished second in the Little Watauga this season.
   But before we start talking about next year, this year's team should be saluted.
   A mark of a champion is not quitting. This team could have easily folded this season, but the players had more pride in their school, their community, and themselves to do that.
   It was a job well done.