Cyclones brace for key game

By Allen LaMountain

   Last season the Elizabethton Cyclones spent the better part of three quarters digging themselves a hole against the Sullivan South Rebels. They then spent an exciting and memorable fourth quarter, scoring three touchdowns to forge a tie, only to fall by a 35-28 tally in overtime.
   "We got a pass interference penalty and that killed us," said Cyclone head coach Tommy Jenkins. "I felt good about where we stood going into overtime. We scored three times on them in the fourth quarter, but we got our bubble burst in overtime."
   Although South appears to be a team "ripe for the picking," the Cyclones will not overlook the Rebels in tonight's contest.
   This season the contest will be played at newly-named Carl Matherly Stadium, but the Rebels (1-2, 1-0 conf.) are struggling offensively, having graduated 16 seniors -- including stud tailback Russell Tritapoe.
   The offensive line for South features five new players, and so far continuity has been a problem for coach Pat Fraley's crew.
   "We have some young guys up front," Fraley said. "And we are going to have to find a way to get people blocked. (Halfback) Aaron Robinette has done a good job making something happen and Aaron Hudgins has played well also."
   Elizabethton (2-1, 0-1) looks to be over the mental errors that plagued them against Tennessee High, and while they haven't forgotten, they seem focused on the task at hand instead of looking back at "what ifs."
   "We have had good practices, and we have talked as a team about what went wrong against Tennessee High," Jenkins commented. "But our focus is on our opponent this week. South is a potentially dangerous team with solid coaching. The game we played against them last year was a coaches nightmare so I hope we don't have a repeat performance."
   South saw its home opener ruined last week by a Sullivan North squad that put a physical beating on the Rebels while saddling them with a 26-0 loss at the same time.
   "Any time you take a physical beating like we did last week you wonder how it will affect your players," said Fraley. "But in this case the kids have responded well."
   Senior quarterbacks will be matched up here as Ryan Curtis takes the snaps for 'Betsy while Matt Morelock is under center for the Rebels. For his part Curtis has taken to Coach Eddie Pless' directions of late and had a tremendous game against Happy Valley, completing 11-of-18 on the night.
   "Ryan has a much better idea in his pre-snap reads right now," said Jenkins. "That helps him to get an idea of what the defense is going to do and he's going through his progressions. Early on he had a tendency to look deep first and that's good, but when it isn't there you have to know where to look next, and he's doing that better."
   Morelock hasn't had much success offensively thus far, as South has scored just 22 points on the season, but Fraley is quick to point out: "Morelock knows the offense, but we haven't gotten enough done in front of him to be able to put it on his shoulders. We have some good leaders here and we will get it straightened out."
   'Betsy hopes it is later rather that sooner as Coach Jenkins knows all about a team that looks ripe for the picking, and how they can turn around and bite you.
   He also knows that 'Betsy can't afford another 0-2 Mountain Lakes Conference start, saying: "South played well against Dobyns-Bennett, played well enough to win against Boone, and while they lost some good players like Tritapoe, who was the conference's top offensive player, I still think they are dangerous. They put us down to third in the conference last year. They finished second, we didn't."
   The difference in the game could be that the Cyclones appear to have better offensive balance with Curtis throwing well and Walter Brown having the kind of season that makes a statement as a senior.
   Brown is halfway to a 1,000 yard season with 511 going into the game, and could be on pace for an 1,800 to 2,000-yard season.
   "Walter's been tremendous this season," Jenkins said. "He follows up one big game with another and I am extremely pleased with the way he has worked. He's very strong in the upper body and at 5-10, 185 pounds has both speed and power."
   Defensively senior LB Vince Redd had a much better showing against Happy Valley as he shed blockers and got into the Warrior running lanes, which he didn't do against the Vikings. If Redd can continue to fire off the ball, instead of waiting for the play to come to him, it will make the rest of the EHS defense that much better.
   Game time is 7:30 p.m. at Sullivan South High School.