Not surprisingly, the pain in Anthony Prophet’s left knee was pretty tolerable when he walked off the field Friday night at East Hall Stadium.
Johnson High’s junior quarterback came off the bench and threw a go-ahead touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to lead the Knights to a 16-13 victory over East Hall.
Sophomore Mantevius Rucker ran for 138 yards and senior Mick Shannon caught the winning 10-yard touchdown pass for the Knights (2-7, 1-3 Region 7B-AAA).
Johnson also got a key defensive stop with less than five minutes to go and the Vikings driving for a potential tying or go-ahead score.
East Hall (1-7, 0-4) drove down to the Johnson 7-yard line with five minutes left but came away with no points after senior Josh Owens and freshman Seth Spivey recovered a fumble on a game-tying field goal attempt.
Johnson ran out the final 4:43 of the game.
"We’ll take it," said Knights coach Paul Friel. "We knew that if we could limit East Hall then we would have a chance. We got a few players back on defense from injuries but lost a couple of offensive players. I told our defense that the offense would be down, but if we could stay with it, we had a real shot at winning this game."
Prophet injured his knee late in last week’s loss at West Forsyth. Fortunately for the Knights, it was a deep bruise and not a ligament tear.
He didn’t practice this week, although he tried to convince the coaches to let him go. Instead they went with freshman Luke Gilleland as the starter and coordinator of Johnson’s option attack. He played the entire first half before giving way to Prophet.
"We really weren’t running the option too well, and it’s tough for someone new to come in," Prophet said. "We all had to step up in the second half, and I think it was a matter of leadership. We knew that if we played well, we could win. This is a big game for us."
Johnson outgained the Vikings 137-67 in the second half, and the defensive effort saved Johnson late. Junior Gilberto Espinoza had a key sack to stop an East Hall drive late in the third quarter, and Owens made a leaping tackle to keep East Hall junior Desmon Gardner from picking up what looked like a sure first down near the goal line.
Owens and Spivey disrupted the Vikings’ field goal attempt and shut down the drive on fourth down.
"We really needed this win," Owens said. "At one point we felt like everybody was slipping back on their effort, but we picked it back up late in the game."
"They run so well laterally on defense, and Espinoza is a great linebacker," East Hall coach Bryan Gray said. "We had planned to run the ball to set up the pass, but it didn’t work out too well. In a game like this, it comes down to mistakes and I think we made a couple of little ones that hurt us."
It was an all-or-nothing type of first half. Johnson had two sustained drives, and it scored on both. Chris Henry kicked a 32-yard field goal for the first score as the Knights took advantage of poor East Hall field position.
East Hall answered with a 38-yard touchdown run from Xavier Robinson that followed a 54-yard kickoff return by senior Kiante Young.
Another shootout? It looked that way.
Back came Johnson and Rucker, who accounted for 49 yards on a 50-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard run for Shannon near the end of the first quarter. East Hall took the next kickoff and went 66 yards in 10 plays. Gardner scored on a 1-yard sneak with 9:12 left in the opening half to put the Vikings back on top.
"We never knew Prophet was hurt," Gray said. "We were all surprised not to see him start.
"Give them credit. Their starting 11 on both sides are really good. I’m very proud of our kids. We’re building with a lot of inexperienced players. You just have to keep fighting."
Friday marked the second time in three years that the winning margin was a field goal. The Vikings won 20-17 two years ago in Oakwood before Johnson’s 35-0 victory last year at East Hall.
The Vikings got 69 yards rushing from Corey Richardson and 56 from Xavier Robinson.