MLC opener puts pressure on Cyclones, Vikes

By Allen LaMountain

   The friendly confines of Brown-Childress Stadium may not be able to contain this one. Last week a near overflow crowd watched as the Elizabethton Cyclones ended a two-year hex by Science Hill, and tonight will look to open the Mountain Lakes Conference with a victory over the Vikings of Tennessee High.
   Last week's crowd, estimated at 8,000 strong, may pale in comparison as these two conference foes meet in the 30th anniversary of what many consider an all-time classic contest.
   THS swept 'Betsy by 15-7 and 20-14 scores last season in ending EHS' long run at the top of the conference standings. This season the winner will establish themselves as the "team to beat," while the loser will be left with a lot of "what ifs."
   "In the second half against Science Hill, I feel like our offense picked up where we left off last year," said Cyclone senior quarterback Ryan Curtis. "There is definitely a lot of rivalry talk going on in this game. We intend to take care of business, and let everyone know that we're number one. We want to be in the driver's seat."
   With tailback Walter Brown dissecting the Hilltopper defense for 203 ground yards, it established that the Cyclones will be able to run the football, and answered a lot of pre-season questions about the offensive line.
   "They certainly gained some experience," said Cyclones head coach Tommy Jenkins. "And I think they did a tremendous job. It's pretty obvious when your tailback goes for 200 yards, but there is always room for improvement."
   Brown showed last week that he is looking to establish his leadership role in his senior season as twice he was helped from the field with leg cramps, but refused to give in to the pain.
   "We plan on doing a lot of the same things we did last week," said Brown. "The team has practiced real hard this week and the offensive line did a great job all week in practice. We want to take them one at a time and not look ahead too far, just focus on the task at hand and what the coaches want us to do. I'll make sure I get plenty of liquids in me for this one, and keep myself healthy."
   The Vikings (2-0, 1-0 conference) come into this contest having played twice -- beating Daniel Boone 21-0 in week zero, and Sullivan North 35-13 -- but THS head coach Greg Stubbs wasn't sure if that represented an advantage for his squad.
   "When you play week zero, it forces you to cut back on scrimmages and some of the things you do in practices to get up to speed," Stubbs said. "I think it may have affected our play in the opener. We did a lot of things much better last week."
   The Vikings return some key players to a squad that lost 11 seniors to graduation, but Stubbs feels that his returning players provide a lot of skill and leadership.
   "The crux of our team is sophomores," Stubbs said, "but with Jason Spina, Bart McMillin, Ryan Baker and Dustin Dickson carrying the load on defense, we will be all right in that department.
   "Offensively, (QB Chris) Boyd has done some good things. Things we need him to do to be successful. He runs well and can throw it some also."
   Defensively the Cyclones completely shut down the 'Toppers' running game last week, with senior LB Vince Redd contributing seven tackles and five assists to a swarming EHS effort.
   In total Science Hill gained just 52 yards on 22 carries (2.36 yards-per-carry) and the Cyclones were particularly tough against the run on third down, twice stopping the 'Toppers on third-and-one situations.
   Another effort of that type will be needed against a Vikings offense that has scored 56 points, while surrendering just 13, in its two wins.
   The Cyclone secondary will be put to the test in this one as the Vikings wing-T offense presents some difficult matchups in the passing game, but junior safety Adam Turley thinks EHS will be up to the task.
   "We think they will run more than throw, but they can throw it," Turley said. "They run a lot of what is called a 'waggle' and the coaches want us to man-up in those situations and stay in coverage. We think we have enough speed to stick with them."
   A key to the game could come down to special teams, where Tennessee High returns senior kicker Glen Black to a formidable unit.
   'Betsy also has strong special teams under coach Brian Moore, who always seems to have a trick or two up his sleeve.
   "We missed a good opportunity on a fake punt, which was my fault," said Curtis, who had a communication breakdown with wideout Lester Bailey on the play. "Even if we don't do anything, it gives the other teams lot to think about. Coach Moore has a ton of trick stuff we can run off special teams."