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Knights stay alive in playoff race
Johnson gets 6 TDs from Harris, Brooks to beat Oconee 40-27
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OAKWOOD — Cedric Harris and Joey Brooks stole the show on Senior Night as Johnson High defeated Oconee County 40-27 on Friday night at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium.

Harris, a sophomore, ran 37 times for 219 yards and four touchdowns for the Knights (2-6, 2-2 Region 8B-AAA).

Brooks, a junior, rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns including a game-clincher from 7 yards out with 2:33 to go.

Johnson ran for 365 yards as the Knights had their biggest scoring outburst in more than a year; they scored 41 in a victory over East Hall last season.

More importantly, Johnson remained alive for a spot in the postseason. A victory next week over Monroe Area, a 26-0 winner over West Hall on Friday, coupled with an Oconee County victory against Walnut Grove would put the Knights as the second-place team from the subregion behind Gainesville.

It also would put Johnson into a play-in game in two weeks against the third seed from subregion 8A for a berth in the state playoffs. That would be the first for the Knights since 2004.

Harris had 246 total yards including a critical 27-yard pass from junior quarterback Luke Gilleland on third-and-long to set up Brooks' second and game-clinching score. Gilleland had stopped a Warriors drive deep in Johnson territory with an interception at the Johnson 14.

"We knew we could do this if we played our best game. And we did," said Johnson senior lineman Taylor Whitmire. "We came out of the lockerroom hyped up, and after the first couple of drives we never backed down."

Johnson turned three critical first-half miscues by the Warriors (2-6, 2-2) into 22 points.

Harris ran for 124 yards and three touchdowns, plus a 2-point conversion, in the first half. He ripped off a 23-yard run on the game's first play after Jose Martinez, a sophomore, recovered an Oconee County fumble on the opening kickoff. Brooks scored on a 2-yard run to cap the drive.

Freshman Corey Collins set up the Knights' next score with a fumble recovery seven plays into the Warriors' first offensive possession. Johnson went 67 yards in 11 plays with Harris scoring from 2 yards out.

"We saw that if we could bounce outside, we could get our yards," Harris said. "We needed to be consistent and it carried us into the end zone again and again. Coach (Friel) said their defense was the key to this game. We proved it was. We did what we practiced on offense and defense all week."

After Oconee County scored on a 20-yard pass play from Santonio Brown to Dustin Phillips at the end of the first quarter, Johnson went 71 yards on 14 plays and ate up 7:33 for its third score. Harris ran in from 6 yards out, keyed by a third-down holding penalty on the Warriors during the prior play.

"Controlling the ball and being able to convert when we needed to was huge," Johnson coach Paul Friel said. "They put up a lot of points against West Hall (in a 42-7 win last week) but if we could move and keep the ball, we were going to be in good shape.

"You never saw their outside linebackers and defensive ends come up all night," he added. "If we got good kick-out blocks, the running plays were going to be there."

Brooks made one of the biggest defensive plays of the game on the Warriors' next possession when he stopped Cole Thurston on a fake punt 1 yard short of a first down on the Warriors' 29. Harris scored on a 10-yard run six plays later.

"We had to come out and bang on them," Brooks said. "If we hit the holes hard enough, we were going to have a big night."

Oconee County drew within two scores on another Sheldon Brown-Phillips connection, this time from 12 yards out, with 8 seconds left in the first half.

Harris opened the second half with a 20-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-2. White had two second-half touchdown passes, one to Phillips for 16 yards and another to John Huff for 33 yards late in the game.

Playoffs or not, Johnson coaches and players are excited about next season. The Knights are on a roll offensively with 108 points in the last three games.

"The younger kids on this team is a hard-working group," Whitemire said. "They're one of the most coachable groups I've been around and do what they're told. They play for the team and not themselves."

Said Brooks, ""This can definitely be out springboard game. We don't have too many seniors on our team, so we're getting a lot back for next year."


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