'Toppers narrowly escape Cyclones

Photo by Dave Boyd
Adam Turley makes a sideline grab on the CyclonesÕ lone touchdown play.

By Ivan Sanders
JOHNSON CITY--For 46 minutes, the Elizabethton Cyclones held onto a slim edge as they battled toe-to-toe against a bigger opponent, pouring out its heart on every snap of the football.
Yet, in the final moments it was dejavu from the previous season, with the Science Hill Hilltoppers working magic in the last two minutes of the game to pull out a breath-taking victory on a Rusmir Demic 24-yard field goal with 12 seconds to play, giving the 'Toppers a 9-7 win at Steve Spurrier Field on Friday night.
"The guys hung in there facing a fourth-and-11 and converted it, giving us the opportunity to go down and score the field goal with 12 seconds left," said an emotionally drained 'Topper coach John Bowles. "We were just trying to get first downs on that last drive, but what can I say -- Elizabethton is Elizabethton and they will give you a tough game every time you play them."
The Cyclones scored first in the contest as the first quarter was coming to an end. Quarterback Jake Berkley rolled right and found senior wide receiver Adam Turley in a one-on-one coverage situation and placed the ball where Turley could use his jumping ability to haul it in.
Turley did just that as he pulled the ball in over the defender and raced 65 yards to put EHS on the scoreboard at the buzzer. Senior place-kicker Craig Estep's boot was true and the Cyclones owned a 7-0 lead.
Meanwhile, the Cyclone defense had a stellar performance, as it frustrated Topper quarterback Jeff Joslin the entire night, often forcing him to throw the ball behind or low to wide-open receivers. Joslin did manage to get the Toppers on the board with 1:26 remaining in the first half.
After a push-in-the-back penalty on SH following a Hunter Thomas apparent 16-yard touchdown run brought the ball back to the EHS 25, Joslin rewarded the speedy Thomas by hitting him on a perfectly-placed toss in the left corner of the end zone, just beyond the hands of Cyclone defender Nathan Bishop.
Demic's extra-point try was awry and the Cyclones held tightly to the narrow one-point advantage after 24 minutes of action.
The third quarter was nothing more than good, old smashmouth football, with both teams landing bone-jarring hit after hit. Entering the fourth quarter, the excitement of the capacity crowd hit a crescendo on each snap of the ball.
With the Cyclone defense forcing a fumble and grabbing the loose pigskin on its own 41-yard line to begin the final period, it appeared that the Cyclones were in fantastic position to take the ball down and score. Science Hill's defense matched the Cyclone effort and forced EHS punter Brandon Blevins to drop back in punt formation.
Getting a little zealous, the Topper special team roughed Blevins on the punt to move the ball to the SH 40 with 5:49 remaining. Once again the defense came up big for the home team, forcing the Cyclones into another fourth down from the SH 34-yard line and a timeout to make an all-important decision with 3:40 showing on the clock.
With the offensive unit's inability to move the ball effectively for most of the contest, the decision was made by the Cyclone coaching staff to send Blevins back on the field in hopes of pooch-kicking the ball to pin the Toppers deep. The plan worked to perfection as Blevins lofted the ball high enough to allow Justin Grace to race down and down the ball on the Science Hill 2-yard line.
Blevins was an effective weapon for the Cyclones the entire evening as the senior hit seven punts for a 43-yard average, with two going for 51 and 57 yards.
Science Hill now faced the inevitable task of going 98 yards with 3:29 remaining in the game and trailing by a single point. Running back Tom Vanthournout gave the Toppers some breathing room, as the back carried the ball to the 17-yard line on the first play from scrimmage.
Joslin found Jon David Scott open on the ensuing down for a 24-yard pass to the SH 41 and another Topper first down. The Cyclones then buckled down and held the Toppers to a fourth-down situation at the SH 40 after a Joslin carry for a loss of one yard and two consecutive incomplete passes.
Needing one more stop to take the game, Elizabethton was stunned as Jeff Joslin found brother, Justice, open to gain a first down on the Cyclones 45-yard line. It was a Joslin to Joslin connection again on the next play as this time the brothers hit it big to the Cyclone 8-yard line with 1:33 showing.
Vanthournout inched the Toppers closer on a two-yard carry, placing the ball at the Cyclone six-yard line. The Cyclones had a chance to recover a Joslin fumble, but SH finally secured the ball with Demic being called upon with 18 seconds left.
Demic made up for the botched extra-point attempt by placing the ball through the uprights for the 9-7 Topper lead. A Doug Flutie-style Hail Mary attempt from Berkley was knocked around by a host of players before the ball fell to the turf with the horn sounding, allowing the Toppers to regain the bragging rights for one season.
Evan Lindauer, a very tired Cyclone defensive end, felt like the Cyclones did what it took to have a chance at winning the game.
"We held them virtually the entire game, right up until the end," said Lindauer. "God has everything in control and He wanted them to win this one. We are looking forward to the game with Tennessee High next week because we want the conference title back, and it all starts over there with Tennessee High."
Even with the loss, Coach Tommy Jenkins of Elizabethton was extremely pleased with his team's effort.
Said Jenkins: "If you think about it and the way we played, we gave ourselves a chance to win and that is the bottom line. Sure, I would have loved to win, but what these guys did the entire game was outstanding. I feel bad for them because they really wanted to win this ballgame and they did everything they possible could to have won. I could not be any prouder of this team than what I am right now."
Derek Nave led the defensive assault for the Cyclones with 13 hits on the night, with Lindauer and Kelly Adkins contributing with 11 and eight, respectfully. Clinton Vannoy came up with a big fumble recovery as well.
The secondary also added a great performance, with Charles Peters, Lester Bailey, Ryan Kennedy, Turley and Nathan Bishop giving outstanding efforts. Offensively, Bailey added 37 yards on 13 carries and Jordan Bray collected 17 yards on four carries and a nine-yard reception.
Berkley finished the night with 75 yards passing and the touchdown.