Cyclones look for bounce-back effort

By Ivan Sanders
STAR STAFF
isanders@starhq.com
A week removed from a humbling homecoming defeat by the Greene Devils of Greeneville, the Elizabethton Cyclones will face a stiff challenge from a tough Sullivan East squad tonight in Bluff City.
Coming up one point shy in a game against Unicoi County that could have kept the Bluff City boys in top contention in the Mountain Lakes Conference, the Patriots will be looking to knock the Cyclones off their first-place pedestal and close the gap in the conference race.
Elizabethton is a team that is hurting, literally.
Injuries have haunted the Cyclones all season and last week wasn't any different. Jordan Bray was lost for the remainder of the season with a knee injury while defensive lineman Clinton Vannoy suffered a hand injury, and corner J.C. Atkinson injured his neck.
With those injuries, there are at least eight Cyclones who figured into the scheme of things before season started, but now are relegated to watching the game from the sidelines.
The Cyclone team was dealt another blow this week when it was learned that head coach Tommy Jenkins will not be on the sidelines tonight.
Jenkins has quietly battled through some health issues the last three weeks while maintaining his leadership role and is scheduled for some testing today that will keep him from guiding the Cyclones tonight.
In his stead, offensive coordinator Eddie Pless will be given the reins, but Pless admits the game will be handled like a business where the assignment will be one of coaching by committee, as all the EHS coaches will have a hand in guiding the Cyclones.
"These guys realize it's different not having coach Jenkins because they all love him and just seeing him at practice has been encouraging to them," said Pless at the pre-game meal on Thursday. "It's going to be a challenge against East, but we are capable.
"We realize this is the conference stretch and one of our goals was to win the conference title. We have five tough opponents coming up so we want to just be focused on the conference aspect for the rest of the way and put everything else behind us."
It will take a few minutes for the Cyclone faithful to get acclimated to the players on the field tonight, as several folks will be seeing action from a starting position that have played a backup role to this point.
Justin Grace, a senior fullback, is one of the faces that will be seen in a starting role tonight, replacing Bray.
"Bray was a solid all-around player who did an excellent job for us," said Grace. "I know in my heart that I can step in there and do what is needed because I've worked hard to prove myself to my team and to my coaches."
The Cyclones have replaced the entire starting backfield from the time the season started, but every player realizes it takes 11 players on the field to make a team and they are not ready to give up on the season and each other yet.
"As a senior I have to help to ensure that the players are kept up in the huddle and if I see someone down, I'll put my hand on their shoulder and try to encourage them," said offensive lineman Cody Fair. "I've tried to help settle Weston down when things go wrong because I have a lot of respect for him and I think he's done a good job for us."
Another player that has done a good job for the Cyclones coming into the game and giving a break to the defensive line has been Frank Hardy. Hardy expects East to be like any other team the Cyclones play night in and night out.
"I expect them to be very aggressive because anyone that plays the Cyclones seem to bring its most aggressive game," quipped Hardy. "On defense, we are going to have to concentrate a lot harder because we have suffered a lot of injuries, but I know we have the heart to step up and play like we are capable of."
Coach Pless would be one of the first to admit that the Cyclones have played with a lot of heart, but heart is not the problem to this point for the Cyclones. The problem lies within the consistency the team has displayed.
Said Pless: "Consistency has really been lacking. To be a good offensive team, you need to be consistent each game you play and we haven't been. Against Greeneville, a lot of the turnovers were mistakes we made, not the fact Greeneville made some outstanding defensive play. We must protect the football early to give ourselves a chance to do something really well."
Added Pless: "Ralph Nelson and his staff have done a tremendous job with East. We'll have to be focused if we are to have a chance to win."
**Note: Parents, fans and supporters of Elizabethton High School are asked to lift a special prayer up on Coach Jenkins behalf for a speedy and complete recovery. His physical presence will be missed tonight, but his heart will be with the Cyclones on every snap of the pigskin.