Jason Roquemore preached all week long to his Johnson High football team the importance of maintaining its composure after any turnover or drawback.
The seventh-year head coach was very much pleased to see his players register that in their minds during Friday night’s game against Riverside Military Academy. Couple that positive with another mammoth effort running the football, and the Knights are now off to their best start in 15 years.
Johnson accrued 313 yards (all on the ground), the defense recorded a pair of takeaways and corralled an athletic Eagles unit in a 30-14 win at Maginnis Field, despite turning the ball over three times itself.
“Two years ago, 0-10 both years, it’s real surprising coming out 3-1,” said junior running back Jacob Cadle, who scored a pair of touchdowns for Johnson. “It feels really good because, in my freshman year, everyone talked mad trash about us. ...But this year, we’ve got a whole bunch of 3-year to 4-year starters, and (we’re running) like crazy.”
All of the Knights giveaways were fumbles — once on the game’s opening drive and twice on back-to-back drives to start the second half. Yet, Johnson still found ways to regain its footing behind a defense that made some big-time plays throughout against the Eagles (1-2).
While the fumbles continue to frustrate their coach, Roquemore applauded his unit for keeping a level head, especially during a turnover-marred start to the second half.
“We knew it was only a matter of time before those guys are capable of making an explosive play," the Johnson coach said. "We tried to send a message, if we gave up a bad play or explosive play, don’t let that affect the next one. I thought we did a great job — especially in the second half — of being able to rise and answer.”
Johnson scored 24 unanswered points through the final quarter, behind two first-quarter safeties and the combined efforts of starting quarterback Sam Corbett (141 yards, two touchdowns) and Cadle (31 carries, 170 yards, two touchdowns).
“(Riverside was) really athletic. But with this type of defense, it was mainly us running the ball down the middle almost every time," Cadle said. “We executed really well with blocking, and running the ball. ...We confused them with a lot of deep back motion, and just executed. That’s we aim to do — deceive the defense.”
The Knights also were able to generate pressure on Riverside Military quarterback Isaac Teasley, who was sacked once, and intercepted by defensive back Nolan Bullock during the third quarter. Linebacker Carter Brandon (forced fumble) and Ezequiel Velasquez (recovery) even berthed a brief scoring drive for Johnson midway through the second quarter, with quarterback Sam Corbett finding the end zone on a 1-yard plunge for 18-0 at the 4:14 mark.
Johnson dominated in terms of time of possession and deception between the tackles, elongating drives for 20 total first downs to Riverside Military’s six.
Riverside Military still found ways to sneak in a small number of explosive plays in the final quarter to account for the biggest chunk of its 217 yards from scrimmage. Jashod Dabney off the reverse converted a fourth-and-7 into a 61-yard scoring scamper to put Riverside Military on the board with 7:58 left. And a 41-yard reception by Khalid Duke put the Eagles in contention for their second and final touchdown. Teasley (7 of 15 passing, 95 yards) capped the drive four plays later with a 1-yard quarterback sneak, though couldn’t get the 2-point conversion, to cut it to 30-14.
It appeared the Eagles had the upper hand on the game’s opening drive, as senior defensive end Harry Kim disrupted a run-heavy Johnson charge inside Riverside Military’s 18-yard-line. A jarring hit by Kim in the backfield stirred the ball loose, and Kim recovered to grant Riverside Military some early momentum.
But despite coughing up the football, the Knights quickly recovered with the first of two first-quarter safeties on back-to-back Riverside Military drives. The first came on fourth-and-long, as Riverside Military’s punter had to chase a low, rolling snap into the back of the end zone to give Johnson the early 2-0 lead.
What was another momentum-swaying stop by the Riverside defense — a blocked 30-yard field goal inside the Eagles’ 13-yard-line — instead flipped to more misfortune. A fumble on the quarterback exchange on the very next snap resulted in Johnson pinning Riverside Military down for a huge loss from inside the end zone, and the Knights went up 4-0 with 2:30 left in the first period.
Riverside Military fumbled and turned it over on downs on their next two possessions, while Johnson converted both opportunities into points.
While happy with the win, Roquemore still see’s room for improvement from an assignment standpoint.
“The game’s starting to slow down for us,” Roquemore said. “Man I tell ya, it was moving a 100 miles a minute for them (at the start). But you can see the confidence, the swagger they have — and the way we’re able to run the football. We just gotta quit laying it on the ground.”
The Eagles are on a next week, then return for a home matchup against Prince Avenue Christian on Sept. 21. Johnson hosts Cross Keys on Friday in Oakwood.