Cyclones out to solve 'Toppers

By Allen LaMountain

   When the 2001 season opened at Memorial Stadium in Johnson City, the Science Hill Hilltoppers faced a banged-up, junior-laden Elizabethton Cyclone squad and posted a 35-14 shellacking of 'Betsy.
   The 2002 season sees a fired-up, senior-laden Cyclone squad that is healthy and looking for a measure of revenge for a pair of lopsided defeats the past two seasons at the hands of the 'Toppers. The two teams hook up tonight in a season-opening affair at Brown-Childress Stadium.
   Last season EHS came into this contest with an injured Ryan Curtis under center. This season Curtis is healthy and eager to get on with his senior campaign.
   When asked if Curtis' injury last season was a factor in the Science Hill win, head coach Tommy Jenkins said: "Ryan couldn't throw the ball early last season because he was hurt, and they knew that. When you can make a team one-dimensional, the defense can crowd the line and take a lot away from what you want to do on offense. It was a factor no question. We want to throw the ball, we have good speed and we want to take advantage of that."
   When healthy, Curtis showed that he is able to take full advantage of the weapons he has as he and WR Lester Bailey posed a tremendous deep-threat tandem, with Bailey averaging better than 16 yards-per-reception last season. Coupled with receivers like Adam Turley and TE Vince Redd, the Cyclone air attack should be cause for concern for opponents.
   "I don't know that we will be able to dictate terms defensively," said 'Topper head coach John Bowles. "(EHS) has so many weapons. Their speed is hard to defend against, but we feel our kids are ready to play. This is a good rivalry and has been for many years, so this is a meaningful ball game for both teams."
   Science Hill's then-junior QB Kye Hamilton shredded the 'Betsy defense last season with scoring strikes to WR Bryson Bowling and TE Daniel Bailey in the first half and finished with 132 yards through the air in the 'Topper win.
   Bowles expects great things from Hamilton this season, saying: "Kye has prepared well for this season. He has some weapons in Chris Patton and Chantz Scott that I think have a chance to be successful. They are both fast kids and very talented."
   RB Roger Antone returns for his senior season, and he performed well in last season's game, rushing for 67 yards on 12 tries. He will look to replace graduated starter JaKeith Hairston, who rushed for 112 yards in last season's 'Topper victory.
   The concern for the 'Betsy coaching staff coming into this season was whether the offensive line -- which graduated three starters -- would be able to gel quickly.
   "We have our starters set with Cody Fair, Brandon Collins, Jake Jenkins, Daniel Wagner and Chad Street," said Jenkins. "Street is the only senior of the group and he played last year, so I expect a lot from him in terms of leadership. I have a lot of faith in him. Jenkins will anchor the line at center, and ever since he was a ball boy here, he has been a dedicated Cyclone."
   Defensively the team is hoping for a big season from Redd from his middle linebacker spot. Redd is already acknowledged as one of the top college recruits in the state, and if he is primed for a big season opponents will have a difficult time matching up with the big (6-6, 260) quick senior LB.
   "(Redd) is in a good spot in their defense," said Bowles. "At linebacker he will not be able to get double-teamed and will face a lot of one-on-one situations. If you try to double him, you open things up for someone else, so you really can't. He is someone we definitely have to be aware of. He has great ability."
   Jenkins also feels that Redd will be something special this season as well.
   "Vince has given nothing less than 150 percent in practices," Jenkins said. "He has been a leader and will be a force. He makes plays all over the field and runs sideline to sideline. On offense he has been doing a lot of extra work, even catching punts to work on his hands. We have a lot of good kids on this team that are willing to do those extra things to make themselves better."
   The defensive secondary for the Cyclones has been a bit nicked, with strong safety Michael Porter and free safety Adam Turley each having suffered ankle sprains, but Jenkins expects that both will be ready to buckle up the chin straps come game time.
   "We have been fortunate in that we don't have any real injuries," Jenkins said. "We have a few nicks with Porter and Turley both banged up a bit, but I think they will be ready to go."
   Mentally, Jenkins thinks that this squad could be as well prepared as any he has coached, saying: "I have been pleased with the effort our guys have given. We make some mistakes, but things are a lot more complicated than they used to be, and it certainly isn't for any lack of effort. I think we are ready to go offensively, defensively and on special teams."
   Game time is 7:30.