Cyclones hurdle Devils; 'Horns look improved

By Ivan Sanders

   The kickoff for the 2003 Mountain Lakes Conference season was like going to a huge buffet bar and being told the only thing you could do was to look at and smell the inviting aroma coming from the food.
   All eight of the conference teams were represented at Sullivan South's Death Valley on Thursday evening as the teams were divided into pairs to square off in two ten-minute periods. None of the teams showed much in the sessions so as to keep the other teams guessing of what to expect for the new season.
   In a prelude to the jamboree, five different competitions were held to see who was the best of the best in each area. Elizabethton managed to take two of the five events in convincing fashion.
   Lester Bailey was like the nitro cars in the popular flick 'The Fast and Furious' as he blistered his competitors in taking the fastest back event. In the punting contest, Brandon Blevins proved he had the strongest toe and earned the nickname of 'Thunder Foot' as the senior Cyclone blasted his kicks nearly 60 yards to win going away.
   Tennessee High and Sullivan East opened up the first two periods of action with the Vikings squeaking by the Patriots 6-0. The preseason favorite Vikes may have taken Ralph Nelson's team from Bluff City too lightly as the Patriots, for the most part, outplayed the defending conference champions aside from the one score.
   The showing may have sent a mini-signal to the other teams that the Patriots are not just going to be the whipping post for the rest of the league in 2003. Meanwhile, the Vikings appear to still be fine-tuning a revamped lineup after the Bristol team was hit hard by graduation.
   In the evening's second two-period game, the Cyclones unveiled a new wrinkle with Bailey being given some reps in the tailback slot. Led by the bullish running of Jordan Bray from the halfback position, Elizabethton took the match up by a score of 6-0 over the Unicoi County Blue Devils.
   Bray scored the lone touchdown on a three-yard burst up the middle to pay dirt, but not without a challenge from the Blue Devil coaching staff. The ball came out of Bray's hand and was scooped up by Unicoi County, but the officials ruled the balled was in Bray's possession when he crossed the goal line.
   Elizabethton had another opportunity to score, but Brian Freeman's 31-yard field goal attempt was just shy of the uprights. The Cyclone defensive unit had a solid night maintaining the Devils offense, while the offensive line showed improvement from its previous scrimmage against William Blount by providing the quarterbacks with time to throw and the backs holes to run through.
   The evening's third contest saw the Johnson County Longhorns and Daniel Boone Trailblazers lock horns and battle to a 0-0 gridlock. Johnson County appears much-improved from the offensive standpoint from last season, as the Longhorns showed confidence in being able to move the ball down the field before Boone was able to shore up its ranks to stop Johnson County shy of the goal line.
   Meanwhile, JC's defensive unit was able to create a frustrating night for Boone, as it swarmed to the ball quickly to erase any hopes of a score by the Trailblazers.
   Closing out the night's jamboree, Sullivan Central and Sullivan South went toe to toe like two heavyweight prizefighters; seemingly oblivious to the fact the contest didn't matter. Central held off the Rebels by a score of 14-7 in the highest scoring game of the jamboree.
   Central and South opened the airways early with Central breaking the scoreboard's goose egg with a score a little over three minutes into the first period. South responded with a score of its own to make it 7-7 before the Cougars iced the game with another touchdown early in the second period to close the door on South.
   The mini-games gave the fans in attendance enough of a taste to whet its appetite for the regular season that kicks off next week for some local teams including Cloudland and Hampton in zero week. The remaining teams, including the Cyclones and Longhorns, will open up the 2003 season the following week with a full slate of action.
   The STAR will be rolling out the 2003 preseason preview edition on Friday, Aug. 22 with all the area teams. Be sure to pick up a copy to read all the pros and cons of your school's team.