Cyclones Wallop East
By Wes Holtsclaw
Elizabethton couldn’t have scripted it any better.
Photo by Brandon Hicks - Freshman Ethan Thomas, shown working behind lineman Derek Nunley, scampered for 122 yards and two touchdowns. No. 70 for Elizabethton is lineman Dustin Phillips.
Freshman Ethan Thomas led an offensive charge with two touchdowns while five other Cyclones reached the end zone in a 48-6 whipping of Sullivan East in Thursday’s regular season finale at Brown-Childress Stadium.
Elizabethton, which improved its record to 7-3 with the win, wrapped up second place in Three Rivers Conference play with the senior night win and put itself in position for a home game when the TSSAA Class 3-A playoffs begin next Friday.
Photo by Brandon Hicks - Chad Pritchard recorded a pair of major defensive plays for the Cyclones, turning one into a touchdown.
“We preached effort going into the final game,” said Cyclones coach Shawn Witten. “When it gets to this time of the season and you’re going into the postseason, you’ve gotta crank that effort up. We had 10 seniors that came out tonight and made some big plays under these conditions.
“We’re excited about where we are. We made huge strides. We’re playing a lot of people. It was a good football team (we faced) tonight and we did a good job. Right now you’ve got to survive and move on. It’s one and done. We’ve got to get ready to go.”
With junior Terrence Turner easing back onto the field with a turf toe injury, Thomas stepped into the lead back role with efficiency. The speedy back led Elizabethton’s by-committee run game with 122 yards on 14 touches and his two trips to the end zone.
Clayton Smith ran for 45 yards and a touchdown, while Luke Nidiffer, Landon Pearson and McKenly Berry all added rushing scores for Elizabethton.
“With Terrence banged up a little bit, we’re playing tailback by committee,” Witten said. “We knew we were going to have to run the ball a little bit in these conditions. I thought our offensive line did a great job.”
The first score was the shot in the arm Elizabethton needed to get going.
After each team exchanged possession to open the game, the Cyclones caught a break on the second East drive. Quarterback Daniel Truett was hit by Wes Mongtomery on a sweep sending the football high and into the hands of a sprinting Chad Pritchard, who ran 25 yards untouched to paydirt.
“I saw Wes put the helmet on it,” said Pritchard. “It popped straight up and, luckily for me, I was already running that way and it bounced into my hands. I just did what I did.”
Elizabethton carried the momentum onto defense with big hits from Pritchard and Montgomery, leading to a Patriot punt.
Terrence Turner moved the chains with two runs, then Berry pushed the Cyclones past midfield with a 14-yard completion to Pritchard. Thomas picked up first downs on consecutive runs, then barreled into the end zone from one yard out for a 13-0 Cyclone lead.
A 55-yard punt return from Caleb Bailey provided a second-quarter spark for Elizabethton, setting up a 7-yard score from Smith for a 20-0 edge.
The Cyclones were in line for another scoring drive on their next series with two first-down throws from Berry, but the quarterback lost possession of the football when he was struck in the backfield, giving East its biggest opportunity before the end of the half.
Photo by Brandon Hicks - Elizabethton’s Caleb Bailey (9) made his presence felt as a punt returner. Blocking for EHS is Jacob Slagle.
A roughing-the-passer penalty on fourth down set up a 19-yard touchdown strike from Truett to Dylan Ratliff with 6.5 seconds on the clock to make it a two-score game and give East some much-needed momentum at the midway point
“We were in the locker room and realized they had most of the momentum at that point,” said Pritchard. “We knew we had to come out (in the second half) with the same momentum we had at the start of the game. Everybody got hyped up for that.”
In the blink of an eye, the Cyclones swung the tide again.
Thomas, the lightning-quick freshman, burned the Patriot defense four plays into the second half with a 64-yard touchdown.
On the following East possession, Pritchard delivered another big play, picking off a Truett pass and taking it 28 yards. After a first-down run from Zach Moore, fullback Nidiffer was off to the races with a 22-yard touchdown to give Elizabethton a 34-6 lead.
“I knew I was going to get positive yards before I got the ball because of the way their defense was set up and the way our line was going to block,” Nidiffer said. “I noticed Ian Glover, he made one heck of a block right in front of me and opened up the field. It was green grass from there on.”
Turnovers kept hurting the Patriots.
A fumbled pitch paved the way for a 6-yard touchdown run from Berry to cap the third quarter. Eric Carter’s interception on the following drive sparked a 19-yard scamper to the end zone from Pearson to produce the final margin.
For the game, the Cyclones outgained East 267-105 on the ground led by Thomas’ efforts, holding the Pats’ leading rusher Austin Glover to 13 yards on six touches. In the passing area, Berry completed 4-of-10 for 82 yards, while Truett, who rushed for 80 yards on the ground, hit 5-of-14 for 49 yards with the two picks for East.
On top of the two interceptions, Elizabethton recovered two fumbles and forced ten Patriot plays of zero yards or less.
“I just think we have a great defense in general,” said Montgomery. “We’ve got such a good bond together. We can get each other pumped up and going. We’re just playing incredible. The line, linebackers and everything.”
The Cyclones enter the playofffs on a four-game swing of momentum with all three facets of its game peaking at the right time.
More than any season, the road from the eastern side of the state to Cookeville appears to be much clearer in 3-A with Alcoa struggling on the season. The Cyclones, who have fallen to the Tornadoes in the semifinals the last two seasons, are one of many teams who look to capitalize.
“It is wide open,” Witten added. “I told our guys before the game it’s anybody’s game. It’s whoever is going to be the best on any given Friday. You’ve got to be prepared and you’ve got to play your best game. You can’t do the things that are going to get you beat. One thing can get you beat.
“I like where we are. We made some tremendous progress. Our football teams have always gotten better as we’ve gone along. So we hope our tough schedule and the teams we’ve played — we’ve only had one bad game. We fought hard against Science Hill. We fought hard against South. We just had that one slip-up and we can’t have two.”
The TSSAA playoff brackets will be released Saturday afternoon via the TSSAA Network Web site.