HAMPTON — Lane Smith might think about a future in law enforcement. The Hampton Bulldog star can spot a fake a mile away.
Smith tackled Johnson County’s Ryan Mahala short of the goal line when the Longhorns faked an extra-point attempt with eight seconds to go. It lifted the Bulldogs to a 21-20 victory over the Longhorns, and served as payback for a 28-27 overtime win by Johnson County in week one, which coincidentlaly came down to a failed two-point attempt by the Bulldogs.
“I was expecting they would run it from the get-go,” Smith said. “We did it up there and they stopped us up, so I figured they would try to match us down here.
“When I saw the holder for the kicker have his knees up off the ground, I knew it was coming and just had to make the tackle.”
Johnson County head coach Mike Atwood had no regrets about taking the LSU-style gamble after his team had driven 41 yards to tie the game on a one-yard plunge by Patrick South.
“If you’re at the other person’s place, I think you need to go for two,” Atwood said. “I felt like they thought we were going to kick it and we could get outside. We didn’t have any timeouts left. Whenever we huddled, I saw we were in trouble. I didn’t want anybody to know, but the kicker and the holder. I didn’t even want the guys on our team to know. I just couldn’t call a timeout when I saw they were lined up like that.”
Like a classic boxing match, the game featured a contrast of styles.
Hampton (4-1) hit from the outside and had the big plays, while Johnson County (3-2) mainly ran between the tackles and controlled the clock.
After an early interception by Brady Tolley, the Bulldogs strung together an eight-play, 55-yard drive. Chris Ellis took a counter play six yards for the score and an early 7-0 lead.
A 37-yard pass play down the middle from Smith to Tyler Chambers set up Hampton’s next score, a three-yard touchdown run by B.J. Taylor.
Johnson County battled back with a score of its own just two minutes later. A 35-yard kick return by Jimmy Morefield put the ball at the Hampton-45. Two plays later, Warren Kerley connected with River Cazire on a 23-yard pass. It led to two carries by Patrick South, the second one a 12-yard rush which South broke a pair of tackles to reach the end zone.
The Longhorns opened the second half with a 19-play, 65-yard drive that took nine minutes and 44 seconds off the clock. South ended the drive with a three-yard dive up the middle and a 14-14 tie.
Smith worked his magic on the next Hampton possession.
He scrambled long enough to find Chambers wide open on a 19-yard pass play and then took a quarterback keeper 32 yards for a touchdown on the next play. Chambers added the PAT for a 21-14 lead with 11:13 left in the game.
The Longhorns responded by driving from its 30 to the Hampton 11. Then, Kerley hit Chase Klein at the three, but Tolley came up and delivered a hit which popped the ball loose and into the hands of Tristan Robinson.
Tolley’s defensive efforts included seven tackles, two interceptions and the forced fumble.
“We have some smart kids,” Hampton head coach Mike Lunsford said. “Brady played exceptionally well tonight. He’s a kid who two years ago wasn’t playing football. He was wandering a little bit, so I went up hugged him by the neck and told him we could use him. He’s a good defensive back, a good football player.”
Despite coming up empty, Johnson County drove for the final touchdown as the workhorse South ended the game with 36 carries for 167 yards.
It led to the dramatic finish in what might be the most competitive rivalry in Northeast Tennessee. Hampton leads the all-time series 34-30, and five times over the last decade, their games have been decided by a single point.
“It just came down to one play,” Atwood said. “That’s about what I figured it would come down to. If we made it, it would have been a great call. It just didn’t work out for us. That’s the way it goes.”
Robinson ended with 17 tackles for the Bulldogs, while Conner Icenhour led Johnson County’s defense with a dozen stops. Smith led the Hampton offense with 86 rushing yards on 13 carries, and was also 2-of-2 passing for 56 yards. Taylor added 76 yards on 15 rushes.
The Longhorns head to Sullivan North for a key Three Rivers Conference game next Friday night. Hampton will play host to Mountain East Conference rival North Greene.