Warriors can't bend Cyclones, lose 23-0

By Jeff Birchfield
star staff

  Grade them an A+ on defense.
  Elizabethton's defensive players showed they were great students Friday night, applying the lessons learned from coaches Monday through Thursday and turning them into a 23-0 shutout win over Happy Valley at Brown-Childress Stadium.
  Charles Peters and Levi Hooten each read pass routes perfectly, resulting in Cyclone interception returns for touchdowns.
  "We watched a lot of film to try to get an advantage," explained Peters. "We were there at the right time. Fortunately those went back all the way. Usually when you get two (interceptions) like that, the ball just dies."
  Head coach Eddie Pless and his assistants did a brilliant job over the week, dissecting the Warrior playbook. Defenders frequently met HV runners behind the line of scrimmage, while Warrior receivers were usually greeted by double coverage on pass routes.
  "The coaching staff did a really good job," said Pless. "They do things similar to what we do. It was a little easier to prepare. It hadn't been an issue of what we were doing as much as mistakes we were making. Our kids bought into what the coaches were teaching them and played super."
  After the teams battled to a 0-0 stalemate through one quarter, Peters provided the break Elizabethton needed at 9:28 of the second quarter. He stepped in front of a Happy Valley receiver at the perfect moment, returning a Todd Caldwell pass 33 yards for a touchdown.
  Down 6-0, the Warriors looked to respond on the next drive, taking the ball from their own 20 to the Cyclone 16. Two big tackles by Jake Berkley ended the forward march.
  Clearly, the first half was a defensive struggle with the Cyclones posting 62 yards of rushing offense and the Warriors tallying 49.
  "Everything is not rosy in life," said Happy Valley coach Stan Ogg. "Elizabethton outplayed us from the start and they deserved to win. We told our kids, we will get better. We dug in there defensively. We were only down six-nothing at halftime. We just were kind of behind the eight-ball.
  "They took us away from running the football and forced us to do some things throwing it. We couldn't run the football and ended up having to throw it."
  Throwing the football didn't appear a bad option for HV during the first drive of the second half. The Warriors took the ball from their own 26 to the Cyclone 39 highlighted by two 13-yard completions from Caldwell to Drew Davis. Davis was wearing a cast on his arm, remnants of an injury suffered in the Unicoi County game.
  "I know it's tough to play in a cast on at the skill position he plays and make some catches, one-handed," Ogg said about Davis. "That was pretty good for a young man around 16-17 years old to do that."
  However, Peters was again a difference maker, recovering a Ryan Garland fumble and returning possession to the Cyclones.
  After EHS put forth a drive that stalled on the Warrior 17, it appeared the defensive struggle might continue.
  Enter Brian Freeman, whose 35-yard field goal put the game solidly in Elizabethton's favor.
  "He just gets better all the time," said Pless about Freeman. "It's only his second year in football. If he had been doing it all the time, it's untelling what he would do. He's a weapon. When we get inside the 30-yard line, we are ready to go.
  "That gave us a big boost and put us over the hump. That made it a two-score ballgame where we could settle and play a little bit."
  Two plays later after Freeman's kickoff went through the end zone, Hooten repeated Peters' earlier exploit, returning a Caldwell pass 37 yards for six points.
  "All 11 guys made an effort to get in the end zone. The coaches had told us all week about that route. I made a break on the ball and a couple of people made some great blocks. The coaches did a great job this week having us prepared.
  "It's a county rivalry. They beat us last year and we needed to win this one. We just had to get back on our winning game."
  At the end of three quarters, it was 16-0 in favor of Elizabethton. The final score came after a punt snap sailed over Garland's ahead back to the 29-yard-line. On a fourth and six at the 25, Pless made the decision to try a halfback pass.
  Berkley completed a 22-yard pass to Derek Nave down to the Warrior 3. One play later, James Peterson burst into the end zone.
  Peterson led all rushers with 60 yards on 17 carries. Brent Shaver came in to post 52 yards on four carries. Weston Jeffers completed four passes for 41 yards with his longest completion, a 21-yard strike to Ryan Kennedy. All total, Cyclones ended with 257 offensive yards.
  The bigger story was the defense holding Happy Valley to only 21 rushing yards on 26 attempts.
  "We practiced all week on our run defense," said Nave, who led EHS with a dozen stops. "We tried to play good defense and we did that. We saw them on film and knew what they could and we wanted to stop them. We had a real good scouting report on them and we played hard. I'm really proud of the way we played."
  Despite the interceptions, Caldwell still had a solid game, completing 10 of 22 passes for 128 yards, spread out amongst six receivers. Greg Swafford had three catches for 47 yards, while Davis made three grabs for 38 yards.
  "I played with heart, but my pride hurts," Davis commented. "Everybody on the team played to the end of the game and gave it their all. We just made some mistakes where you can't mess up. That killed us."
  Daniel Guinn was the game's defensive leader, making 13 tackles for Happy Valley.
  "I tried my best to help the team," said Guinn. "I couldn't stand the feeling of losing that bad. We have to work together as a team. I just gave it my all and tried my best. You have to give credit to everyone, it was a team effort."
  A team effort best described the night for Elizabethton, breaking in the win column for the first time under Pless after losses to Science Hill and Tennessee High.
  "We played better tonight," said Pless. "We didn't have near the mistakes we had the first two ballgames. Our kids believe in what we do. It's a big win because we didn't feel we had played as well as we could.
  "This is a big deal for the kids because they hang around together. Sometimes I wish we could combine teams and see what we could do. They're a great bunch and I hope they have a great year."
  For Happy Valley (3-1), who entered the game as the No. 2 ranked Class 2A team in the state, the Cyclone improvements couldn't have come at a worse time. The road only gets harder the next few weeks. Games at defending Watauga Conference champion Gatlinburg-Pittman and undefeated Johnson County loom on the schedule.
  Elizabethton (1-2) will look for a first Mountain Lakes league triumph next Friday night, when they travel to Sullivan South (2-1).