Opening half sinks Cyclones

By Marvin Birchfield

   BLOUNTVILLE--The matchup between Elizabethton and Sullivan Central was decided in a 20-minute span, which saw the Cougars come away with a 6-3 victory for the Regional 1-AA soccer championship on Wednedsay.
   A letdown in the first half by Elizabethton allowed Central to score five goals in a stretch which lasted nearly half of the period, but the Cyclones managed to keep fighting until the end.
   "I'm proud of the way we played in the second half," said Elizabethton coach Bill McClay. "We talked about it at halftime -- wherever we play Saturday it starts right now in this second half. The same thing happen to us two years ago, when we lost to them in the regional finals."
   Elizabethton jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first six minutes of the contest, when Dylan Smith made a break past the defender.
   After receiving a long pass from Josh Fair, Smith broke free to execute the kick from the right side of the goal.
   The Cyclones had just a few opportunities in the first, with a nice play from Fair to gain control of the ball at midfield and attempted pass to Adam Green.
   The Cougars stepped up with the goalkeeper making the deny, as Elizabethton's field advantage slowly started slipping away.
   "I thought at the 15-minute mark our assistant coach made a great adjustment, and I'm not sure what he did, but we had five goals in about 12 minutes, or that's what it seemed like," said Sullivan Central coach Joe McPherson.
   A break on the ball off a long kick and pass by the Cougars found Bucky Buchanan streaking toward the goal past the defense.
   Elizabethton goalkeep Ben Carey made the surge to make the denial, but a collide with Buchanan let the ball to slip through, with the trailing Drew LaPorte unable to make the stop.
   After that critical play, it was all downhill for the Cyclones in the remainder of the half, as four more goals were scored on a Cyclone team that went into shock.
   "What we did in this game, we didn't do in other games, which was make fatal mistakes," said McClay. "We avoided those mistakes in other games, and in this game we made the mistakes and they're a good enough team that will make you pay."
   Another breakaway goal for the Cougars scored when Colin Campbell hit the shot to give Central a 2-1 lead.
   Both Campbell and Buchanan were relentless in the first half, with each of them knocking down two goals apiece.
   "What helped was that they had three or four guys packing in the middle that first 15 minutes, and we adjusted by moving a guy up front, and that opened the midfield, plus it put Colin up front where he's dangerous," said Cougars assistant coach Andy Malcomn. "Our six seniors are so tough because they don't give in, and they've played with us for all four years now."
   A shot across the middle of the box from Campbell and rebound off a miss by Buchanan saw the Cougars score two more goals in less than a two-minute stretch.
   "We got down there and everything was seeming to go their way, and then we came back and pulled the intensity up and got on them," said Campbell. "Everything just started stringing together like it did on Monday, and we seemed to work well together and just hit our targets."
   Sullivan Central struck again with just a couple of minutes left in the first half, with Walt Herbert connecting with a head shot on an inbounds sidekick from Paul Malone.
   "Working it through the sides and crosses is a big part of our offense because with our front line we can get our head on the ball or one touch toward the goal," said Campbell. "That creates the opportunities, and we were lucky enough to convert on them."
   The Cougars advantage had grown to 5-1 by the end of the half, as the Cyclones were looking flat and lifeless in the last part of the first half.
   The second half was a different story for Elizabethton, as it battled back to trim the lead down to two.
   "In the second half we played the way that I think we're capable of playing against them, but in the first half we had a melt down," said McClay. "We scored a goal and then they came back intensely in our face and we didn't respond well."
   A penalty called inside the box for a hand check gave Elizabethton the break it was needing.
   The Cyclones capitalized when Smith nailed to kick which ricocheted off the top of the goal.
   "I was just in the right place at the right time to pull out that hat trick," said Smith. "We broke down after they scored two goals in the first half, and our coach chewed us out at halftime, and then we just played soccer the second half and pretended the score was 0-0."
   The Cougars had their opportunity with a penalty kick also, but a great diving stop from Carey kept the ball from getting through for the score.
   Another couple of great defensive plays came from Carey as he stop head shots inside from Buchanan and Campbell.
   Elizabethton did a much better job of getting back on the defense, with Jeff Alman and Tyler Ross denying shot attempts.
   After Robert Cogan created a steal, an amazing third goal of the game came from Smith when he retrieved a loose ball and made a shot that hit the right part of the goal and sneaked through.
   "I think we outplayed them the second half, but those five goals in the first half really hurt," said Smith. "I think we just gave up in the first half, but we play Saturday and we'll just go down there and play soccer."
   The Cyclones had 17:35 left to grab two more goals for the tie, but the Cougars tighten their defense to not allow another score.
   Central captured its last goal of the evening with 11 minutes left to play, when Luke Avery connected with a head shot off an inbounds assist from Malone.
   Elizabethton will travel on Saturday to play the winner of CAK and Lenior City, while the Cougars remain at home to face the loser.