Cyclones set sights on Patriots

By Allen LaMountain
ASST SPORTS EDITOR
awlamountain@starhq.com

   For the Sullivan East Patriots it's an opportunity to measure itself against one of the top Mountain Lakes Conference teams, but to the Elizabethton Cyclones it's a chance to rebound from a tough loss in rainy Greeneville.
   That doesn't bode well for the Patriots (1-1 MLC, 1-4 overall), who are not yet in Betsy's class on the gridiron, but are a program hopefully on the upturn.
   "We had great response to our off-season program, and a lot of kids turned out for the team," said first year Pats head coach Ralph Nelson. "Were trying, step-by-step to get better, but we still have a lot of goals we want to reach. It was good to get that (26-game losing) streak behind us. We set some goals for ourselves in the beginning of the season that were reachable for us."
   For East, who lost a heartbreaking 33-32 game to Central two weeks ago and fell 28-13 to Crockett this past week, it's been all about trying to keep the games as close as possible.
   "That's been the thing," said Nelson. "Trying to keep games close so you can give yourself a chance to win. We know EHS is a squad with a lot of speed, and that's a hard thing to defend against."
   That will probably be the case tonight as the Cyclones (1-1 MLC, 3-2 overall) moved the ball well against the Greene Devils - one of the top six schools in 4-A football - and figure to be able to do so against East.
   Cyclone tailback Walter Brown is having a tremendous senior season, and could crack 200 yards rushing in this one. Brown comes in having rushed for 759 yards and 10 touchdowns at the season's halfway mark and could have a field day against what will be an out-manned Pats defense.
   "The thing with us is we'll have to come to play," said Cyclone senior defensive tackle Matt Myers. "We shouldn't think that the other team isn't coming here to play tough. This being homecoming I want us to play good."
   If the Cyclones offensive line can open the holes for Brown, and senior QB Ryan Curtis can hit some big strike plays, Betsy should win this one going away. But this is a team that has hurt itself with penalties and turnovers at times this season.
   "East is much improved for coach Nelson," said Cyclones head coach Tommy Jenkins. "We have to respect that. I tell our players how it is with respect to an opponent - try to give an honest evaluation of them. I'll say that if we are not into it mentally we'll have a tough game on our hands. The coaches have talked about that all week."
   Curtis-to-Bailey could be an explosive combination as the Patriots have no one that can stay man-to-man with Bailey and TE Vince Redd should be able to control the middle of the field on short passes to move the chains. Fullback Mitchell Bowers has been someone Curtis looks to on screen and flat passes, and Bowers has played well all season.
   One thing no coach or player wants to do is take an opponent - even one you are expected to beat - lightly, and let them stay in the game with your mistakes. The only shot Sullivan East realistically has, is for Betsy to play sloppy, commit turnovers, and penalties and for East to try to keep it a close contest.
   "We aren't looking for moral victories here," said Nelson, who is instilling toughness, mentally and physically, into his squad with this approach. "Not too many people talk about your moral victories. EHS and Tennessee High are the teams we want to be like. They are the measuring stick for this league. We are getting better incrementally, and we have had some kids step up and become players."
   Sophomore QB Matt Eads has spearheaded a much improved East offense, as he and senior WR Justin Trivette have lifted the Pats passing game to new levels.
   "Eads, Trivette and (LB/RB) Donnie Rader are guys that have stepped up this year," said Nelson, who has seen his offense score 102 points in five games. "Josh Wright is another of those. What's good is that it's someone different each time and that's a positive step."
   In a three-week stretch of the season - against Sullivan Central, Volunteer and Unicoi County - Sullivan East put up 82 points, so the Pats have the ability to put points on the scoreboard.
   Coach Nelson will want to keep that trend going rather than the turnover-plagued game the Pats played in a 28-13 loss to David Crockett last week. In that game Eads was picked off three times - with one going for a Pioneer touchdown - and the Pats were held to 154 yards on the ground.
   East showed some big-play capability however, getting a 57-yard scoring run from Wright and Eads rebounded to throw a scoring pass to TE Clayton Potter as East attempted to rally in the rain.
   If East turns the ball over it will be a long night for the Patriots, who will be looking to keep the Cyclone starters on the field as long as they can. That would mean the game's outcome is still in doubt.
   "I hope we get an opportunity like last year where we can play everyone," said Jenkins. "I want to get everyone involved, and I want the guys to enjoy homecoming - after the game. I want my players to come ready to play before the game."
   Game time is 7:30 p.m.