Inspired effort fall just short for Elizabethton

  By Tim Chambers
  star staff
  tchambers@starhq.com
  In order to reach the mountain top, one must first get over the Hill. The same held true in Friday night's season opener for the Elizabethton Cyclones.
  Hanging on for dear life in the fourth quarter, Science Hill held off the Fighting Cyclones 24-19 at Brown-Childress Stadium/Dave Rider Field.
  The letters "TJ" were painted near the Cyclones bench on the 50-yard line playing area in honor of coach Tommy Jenkins, who passed away Wednesday due to his battle with cancer.
  'Betsy players wore the letters "TJ" on their helmets while coaches had them engraved on their caps.
  "Tommy meant so much to our school, these players and our coaching staff," said Eddie Pless following his debut as the Cyclones' head coach. "We have dedicated our entire season in memory of Coach Jenkins."
  Science Hill opened the game with a 40-yard pass play from Brandon Shoun to Michael Forney, but the drive was short-lived. Jake Berkley intercepted a Shoun pass, giving 'Betsy possession on the 48.
  The Cyclones moved the ball to the Topper 23, with the key play being a 16-yard pass from Weston Jeffers to J.C. Atkinson. However, Science Hill rose up and stopped the 'Clones on a fourth-and-1, taking over on downs at the 20.
  Science Hill used an 11-play 80-yard drive, capped off by a one-yard plunge from Forney with 2:51 remaining in the first quarter. Josh Kyle had 66 yards rushing on the drive and 148 yards on 27 carries for the game. Kyle Jacobson added the PAT for a 7-0 lead.
  Elizabethton rallied behind the stellar play of Jeffers, who was on fire in the first half. Jeffers connected with Steven Bowers on a 16-yard pass play, giving 'Betsy good field position at the 45.
  On third and 10, Jeffers hooked up with Nathan Bishop on a 35-yard completion, giving the Cyclones possession at the 20. Two players later, Atkinson raced 17 yards on a reverse for a touchdown. Brian Freeman tacked on the extra point to tie the score at 7-7.
  "We were moving the ball against their defense the entire night," said Atkinson. "Had we held onto the football, we could have won this game."
  Science Hill was driving again, but an interception by Bishop stopped the Topper drive on the 18. James Peterson blasted up the gut for a 30-yard run, and Jeffers hooked up with Josh Hutchins for 10 more as the Orange and Black attack appeared ready to take the lead.
  But a costly fumble on the next play was scooped up by Thomas Young, with the end result being a 60-yard touchdown run. Jacobson's extra point provided the Hill a 14-7 cushion.
  Brent Shaver gave Elizabethton great field position with a 29-yard return on the kickoff that followed, but a Cyclone fumble on the very next play gave Science Hill another scoring opportunity.
  The 'Betsy defense then stiffened, forcing the Toppers to try a 42-yard field goal. The kick was ruled good, even though it appeared to travel under the crossbar, putting the Toppers up 17-7 at the half.
  "This team had every reason to hang their heads tonight but refused to quit," stated Pless. "Not once did they ever hang their heads or complain. They played Cyclone football for 48 minutes."
  Each team was able to move the ball in the third period, but were unable to put points on the board. 'Betsy saw a golden scoring opportunity vanish when Jeffers hit Nave at the three, but a fumble was ruled when it looked like Nave was down, denying 'Betsy a change to reach the end zone.
  "We tried to play hard not only for Coach Jenkins but for Coach Pless and our team," said Nave. "They were mixing things up on offense that gave us some trouble, but overall I think our young guys did a pretty good job."
  Science Hill regained momentum after the fumble recovery when Shoun found Thomas Hunter for a 35-yard touchdown. The PAT was true for a 24-7 lead.
  Before fans could get to the exit Atkinson dazzled the crowd with a 52-yard kickoff return, but an interception on the next play nullified the great run. But the "Black Attack" defense led by Nave held its ground and forced a punt by the 'Toppers.
  Jeffers engineered a 65-yard drive capped off by a beautiful over-the-shoulder circus catch in the corner of the end zone by Ryan Kennedy, resulting in a touchdown. The PAT was blocked, keeping the margin at 24-13 with 8:13 remaining in the game.
  "My receivers did a good job of catching the football tonight and the line played hard against a much bigger defensive front," stated Jeffers. "If we cut down on our turnovers, we can become a very good football team."
  A fumble on the next Hilltopper possession was recovered by Matt Fox, keeping the Cyclone hopes alive. To top that off, the 'Toppers were flagged for roughing the passer on a third-and-17 play.
  A beautiful screen pass to Peterson picked up 34 yards to keep the 'Betsy crowd in suspense. On the next play, Jeffers found Bowers out of the backfield for a 18-yard touchdown with 1:25 remaining.
  However, a desperation onside kick attempt was foiled, and the 'Toppers ran out the final minute to get the win.
  Jeffers had a stellar evening, completing 18 for 28 attempts for 311 yards and two touchdowns. Nathan Bishop reeled in five passes for 83 yards while Kennedy added 49 yards on four snags.
  Levi Hooton came up with two catches for 55 yards while Peterson and Bowers tacked on two catches each for 55 and 28 yards, respectively.
  Nave had an outstanding game on the defensive side with 15 solo tackles and six assists. Jake Berkley, Charles Peters and Mitchell Blevins had five each to help the cause.
  "These kids did everything you could ask of them," added Pless. "We need to cut down on our mistakes and move the ball a little better on the ground.
  "But give Science Hill credit, they were responsible for stopping our running game. They are very well-coached and have a good group of kids. We've got to put this game behind us and get reading for next week. It doesn't get any easier with Tennessee High coming to town."