Johnson County High School brought its Longhorns into Claiborne County to do battle with the Claiborne High School Bulldogs Sept. 30. It was a beautiful evening for football with cool temperatures and a slight breeze helping to cool the players.
Before the game, Bulldogs head coach Nathan Medlin spoke about what was in front of his team, “They are a good team and they will present a number of looks for our defense to handle including a Wing T and sometimes they will even spread out across the field. We made a few changes this week personnel wise but we are still changing the culture and it just takes time.”
Those changes seemed to make a difference as the Bulldogs battled tooth and nail showing much effort. In the end, the Bulldogs did not pull out the upset victory but the Longhorns knew they had dodged a bullet winning 21-12.
Claiborne Bulldogs kicked off to start the game and the Longhorns began the game with a holding penalty. Those yellow flags played a huge role later in the game. Austin Williams and Hunter Rosenbalm made their presence felt on defense during the opening drive that ended with a Longhorns punt. The Bulldogs started their first drive on the 22-yard line. Medlin dialed up a long pass play: Ty Stone to Rosenbalm who grabbed it out of the air and made it to the Longhorns 39. Isaiah Cloud rushed 39 yards for the score. The point after attempt was no good and the Dogs led 6-0.
During the next drive Remington Mountain impressed the crowd by making some big defensive plays. The Longhorns kept moving the ball as another Bulldogs defender stepped up to make a stop — Elijah Beason. Austin Cunningham was in the right spot and intercepted a pass giving his team the ball back at the 21 with 3:51 left in the first. Jake Butler got involved in the offense with Beason helping to add up the rushing yards. The quarter would end with the Bulldogs needing one yard and leading 6-0.
Stone ran for the first down to keep the drive alive. Cloud and Butler combined to also keep the drive alive but on that play Stone was ejected from the game for trying to remove a defender off a teammate that was staying on a player long after the whistle. He used his hands to push the defender off but it was deemed to be a shove to the head area so by rule the officials had to eject the player. This focused the team together and they began playing even harder. The home team was faced with a fourth-down play in the red zone but an inside run did not break for the first.
The Longhorns had the ball and a few plays later a pass to J.C.’s Greer gave them their first score. The point after was good and the visitors led 7-6. Cloud then went under center for the remainder of the half and the Bulldogs relied on their rushing attack. The half ended 7-6 with Johnson County leading.
Beason slid under center during the second half and played very well through pain and blood but on the opening drive the Longhorns stopped the Dogs and began their drive at 9:42. Lukas Neely had his name called a lot on defense as did Mountain. The defense forced a punt and the Bulldogs took over at the 8:12 mark in the third. This drive continued with the help of an unsportsmanlike penalty against the Longhorns. Cloud needed to reach the thirty for a much needed first down but they were the width of the stripe short handing the ball over to the Longhorns.
The Bulldogs benefited from a Johnson County fumble and had the ball back on their own 36. This drive didn’t go far and they had to punt the ball away. Just before the third quarter had ended the Longhorns hit on another big pass play for a score but the extra point was no good. The score was 13-6 starting the fourth quarter.
Beason, Cloud and Butler did the work on the next Bulldogs drive with Butler scoring on a great run covering 63 yards. Cloud narrowly missed on the two point conversion attempt and the score was now 13-12. The Bulldogs defense again rose to the challenge stopping the Longhorns and forcing a punt that ended in a touchback.
Butler then ripped off an 80 yard run and to the dismay of the home fans it was called back due to a holding penalty. The drive stayed alive when Beason hit Rosenbalm for a big first and 10. One play later, Johnson County pounced on a Bulldogs fumble.
In just a few plays, Longhorns scored on a QB keeper and there was controversy on the two point conversion. The pass appeared to many on the Bulldogs sidelines and to some of the Longhorns coaching staff that the ball actually hit the ground before being caught but the officials saw it the other way and two Bulldogs were ejected for arguing the call. After the penalty mark off, the Longhorns kicked the ball off at the Bulldogs 15 yard line. It was something most football fans had never witnessed. Of course the kick ended in a touchback and the ball actually going back five yards to the 20.
Butler carried the ball for three more first downs and the Longhorns defense bent but never broke. On a fourth down the defense guessed that Butler would get the ball and guessed correctly ending the drive and the hopes of the Bulldogs. After a couple kneel-downs the Longhorns had escaped the upset by the final score of 21-12.
Following the game Medlin told his team, “You all didn’t lay down it was a team effort and you played great. Things happened tonight that was out of your control but you all played your hearts out. I wish we could play this one again. I do not have the words to make this feel better. I love you all and I’m proud of how you played.”
Things do not get any easier for the Bulldogs as they will travel to Elizabethton Oct. 9. The Bulldogs remain at two wins on the 2016 season. Also a point to note: The Bulldogs will receive a call from league officials about further suspensions to the players involved in the ejections if any.
Reach Allen Earl at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @pitchadude.