Defense lifts Elizabethton freshman over Hilltoppers

Photo by Kristen Luther
Cyclone tailback Brent Shaver attacks the Hilltopper defense.

By Marvin Birchfield
The freshman Cyclones were victorious on Thursday, returning two interception for touchdowns en route to a 20-9 decision over Science Hill at Brown-Childress Stadium/Dave Rider Field.
Elizabethton trailed early in the contest, but was able to capitalize off of a couple of Hilltopper mistakes.
"We had 11 guys swarming to the ball, and the effort was great," said Elizabethton coach Ryan Witten. "Those guys I push in practice, and the defense played great, so hopefully our offense will too next week."
One of them coming in the first half and the other towards the end of the contest which prevented a comeback in the final two minutes.
Both teams showed resistance with their defense, as neither club was able to get much going on their first two possessions.
Science Hill was able to put together a 98-yard drive at the end of the first period, which carried over into the second as Lucas Snapp made an eight-yard touchdown run right up the gut.
The Cyclones struggled on offense during the first half, and it wasn't until under two minutes left that they converted a first down, on a 12-yard run from Brent Shaver.
"Our offense struggled the whole game, and they played slower than what the defense did. The defense was on the field almost the entire first half," said Witten.
It wasn't the Elizabethton offense which put up points in the first half. Instead, the defense stepped up when Brandon Medina picked off a pass from Robert Frye and went 62 yards for a touchdown.
"Brandon Medina did a good job by breaking on the ball to turn the game around," said Witten.
After receiving a excessive celebration penalty, the Cyclones came back, with Preston Smith hitting Drew Hyder down the right side for the two-point conversion to give 'Betsy an 8-7 lead heading into the locker room.
Elizabethton came out strong to start the second half, putting together a 14-play drive for 65 yards and the score.
A 15-yard run up the middle from fullback Justin Harmon was the longest run of the night for the Cyclones, and a fake reverse by Shaver went for 11 yards.
The Cyclones capitalized on second-and-goal with a slant pass across the middle, from Smith to Josh Guinn, resulting in a touchdown and a 14-7 EHS lead with 3:27 left in the third period.
"We wanted to run the ball first, but tonight it was more like pass the ball first. We had good protection, and Preston Smith stepped in there and did a good job throwing it," said Witten.
The Hilltoppers had a drive going in the early part of the fourth quarter, but a pitch to Micah Holifield turned into a fumble, with Justin Palmer making the recovery.
Science Hill had another opportunity go sour. After converting a fourth-and-21 on a pass from Frye to Markey Latham, a strip inside the 10-yard line gave the ball back to the Cyclones.
Elizabethton had its troubles with the ball as well, as Shaver was unable to handle a pitch, resulting in a safety with 3:26 left in the ball game.
"We came back fighting and got a little momentum with the safety in the end zone, and if we could have gotten a touchdown when the kid dropped it across the middle, we'd been in good shape," said Science Hill coach Sandy Cody.
The Hilltoppers had good field position after the kick-off went out of bounds, but just like in the first half the Cyclones came up with another big play.
An attempted pass on fourth down from Frye to Latham was intercepted, with Hyder taking it 66 yards to score.
Science Hill was unable to bounce back as its last series on offense ended with a host of Cyclones making the sack on Frye.
"I'm proud of them," Cody said of his players. "They fought back until the end, and if Elizabethton can keep all those freshman together then they'll be tough to contend with in a few years."