Johnson’s players couldn’t stop smiling after Friday’s 19-13 win against West Hall in the annual Battle of Oakwood. Knights senior running back Cedric Harris felt like beating his team’s archrival right out of the gate could serve as a turning point for a program that was winless in 2011.
In front of a capacity crowd at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium, the Knights (1-0) managed to snap a 12-game losing streak and also usher in first-year coach Jason Roquemore properly with his first-career win.
“This means this world for us to win this game,” Harris said. “It feels great.
“From here on out, it’s nowhere but up for Johnson football.”
Just a little more than two months after Roquemore was introduced as Johnson’s new coach, he led a program loaded with returning players to a win in the season opener, thanks to the hard-nosed running of Harris (39 carries, 178 yards) and a long third-quarter touchdown run from junior Luis Hernandez of 61 yards.
“I almost forgot how it felt to win,” Hernandez said. “It feels unbelievable right now.”
After the Spartans (0-1) drew to within a score late in the fourth quarter, Harris helped drain more time off the clock with more solid running. Harris’ two touchdown runs went for 18 yards in the first quarter and 6 yards on an early second-quarter score.
“He (Harris) ran the ball great tonight,” Roquemore said. “It seems like as the game gets longer, he gets stronger.
“I’m proud of the entire team for a great effort.”
Despite the heavy load carried by Harris, the touchdown by Hernandez may have been the most pivotal. Leading 12-6 with four minutes remaining in the third quarter and facing a third and 6, Knights quarterback Paul Barker kept the ball until the last second, then pitched to Hernandez who took off for the long score.
That gave Johnson a two-touchdown lead after playing well on the defense most of the night. However, as usual in the Battle of Oakwood game, there was some drama toward the end, and Johnson was forced to make a defensive stop of West Hall in the final minute to preserve the win.
“I was very proud of our effort tonight, and despite getting down, the kids didn’t quit,” West Hall coach Tony Lotti said. “We’ll look at the mistakes we made in the this game and get better.
“All of the goals this team has for the season are still out there for us to accomplish.”
After a long drive by West Hall late in the third quarter ended with a failed field goal, junior quarterback Zach English orchestrated a more successful drive that was capped by Cameron Johnson’s touchdown run from the 2, cutting the Knights’ lead down to 19-13 with 4:23 left in the game. English was equally effective with his slippery running as he was throwing in the second half.
On West Hall’s fourth-quarter scoring drive, English shook off a dropped pass by one of his receivers in the end zone, and an interception on the next play that was called off due to a roughing the passer call, by avoiding a sack on the next play and still picking up 5 yards.
English finished the game with 136 passing yards, and another 81 rushing.
“(Zach) is a gutsy kid, a good kid,” Lotti said. “We’ve got to get better at capitalizing with points when we get a chance.
“I can count three times when we got deep in Johnson territory and didn’t score.”
Johnson set the tone for the game with its second drive of the game, less than a minute after fumbling the ball away on the opening play. On its second drive, things went much better for the Knights, who moved the ball steadily on the ground with the ball in Harris’ hands.
Johnson converted on four third-down plays on the drive, and once on fourth down. Facing third and 17 in West Hall territory, Harris shook off a would-be tackler and picked up 17. Three plays later on third and 7, he made a cut at the line of scrimmage and went in untouched for an 18-yard score.
After Johnson’s Orion Pittman, a freshman, intercepted a West Hall pass on the next drive, Johnson scored seven plays into its ensuing drive with a 6-yard run from Harris. The Knights kept the drive alive when Barker rolled out of fourth down and hit Harris for a 16-yard pass completion.
Johnson failed on its first two point after attempts.
Trailing 12-0 late in the first half, West Hall scored when Ty Statham scooped a Johnson fumbled and went in for a 30-yard touchdown.
Johnson hosts Oglethorpe County on Friday at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium. West Hall hosts Chestatee on Sept. 7 at Spartan Field.