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Top-seed Longhorns face first-round challenge

Douglas Fritz • Nov 1, 2018 at 7:39 PM

From Don Kerley’s viewpoint, Gatlinburg-Pittman isn’t seeded where it belongs.

“G-P looks like a No. 1 seed in most conferences,” said Kerley, Johnson County’s head football coach.

Kerley’s Longhorns, the No. 1 finisher in Region 1 with a record of 9-1 overall, will play host to the No. 4-seed Highlanders in a TSSAA Class 3A playoff game Friday night. Kickoff is set for 7 o’clock.

In another Class 3A contest, Unicoi County plays host to Kingston. In Class 2A, Hampton plays host to Rockwood while Happy Valley (Oneida) and Sullivan North (Meigs County) hit the road.

And in Class 1A, Cloudland has a home date against Midway.

Johnson County

Kerley’s assessment of Pittman is based on both sides of the ball.

“Offensively they do a great job of spreading the defense out and running off-tackle zone-read plays,” he said. “They have a very good quarterback, who can hurt you running and throwing. To top it off, their offensive line is huge. On defense they run multiple fronts and blitz a lot, trying to confuse the offense.”

J.D. Shults is the Highlanders’ quarterback while running back Bryce Akey has 15 touchdowns. Bo Rowland, who is 6-foot-5 and 291 pounds, is a key part of the size-packing offensive line.

Johnson County counters with two of the area’s top players in running back Nathan Lane, who leads Northeast Tennessee with 28 touchdowns, and linebacker Tyler Norris, who tops the area with 164 tackles.

Unicoi County

After a 47-0 loss to Alcoa, it looked like Kingston was on the fast track to missing the playoffs.

However, the Yellowjackets bounced back with wins over Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg-Pittman to edge into the No. 3 spot in Region 2. Speedy running back Marcus Rose is a threat for Kingston. He scored twice in the 20-7 win over G-P.

The Blue Devils boast one of the area’s best running backs in Kody Lewis, who has rushed for 1,632 yards with 23 touchdowns. Also, quarterback Brock Thompson has passed for 1,073 yards with 14 touchdowns. Versatile receiver Brett Strother has 11 totaled touchdowns.

Hampton

Rockwood comes in with a three-game winning streak while Hampton has won two in a row and totaled 110 points over its last two contests.

The Tigers whipped Hampton 45-14 in last year’s first-round matchup, and eventually reached the state semifinals.

Running back Lane Potter is the Bulldogs’ top offensive threat, closing in on the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season.

Happy Valley

There may be a window of opportunity for the Warriors as the Indians have struggled to move the football for three straight weeks.

However, Oneida won two of those games, 10-0 over Bledsoe County and 7-3 over Coalfield, and the loss was a 35-0 setback against top-ranked Meigs County.

The Warriors are led by quarterback/linebacker Dakota Cochran. He has rushed for 425 yards over the past three games, and is near the top of area leaders in tackles, sacks and interceptions.

Sullivan North

The Raiders made it to the second round of the playoffs last year, but will be hard-pressed to repeat that finish this year. Meigs not only has outscored its opponents 410-45, but the Tigers have also allowed only three points per game over the last eight contests. They are favored to win the Class 2A state title.

Cloudland

Midway got off to a nice start this season with five straight wins, but closed the regular season with losses to top-ranked Greenback and Oliver Springs — two tough opponents.

Quarterback Jason Taylor is a key player for the Green Wave.

Jordan Coffey and quarterback Malachi Benfield have paced the Highlanders this season. Coffey is a 1,000-yard rusher with 17 touchdowns while Benfield’s passing provides a nice scoring complement to Coffey.

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