Patriots stun Cyclones

Photo by Kristen Luther Fullback Justin Grace was the Cyclones' leading rusher at Sullivan East.

By Ivan Sanders
BLUFF CITY--During many a battle over the course of history, there have been times that victory looked assured, only to see the opposing forces regroup and storm back to turn what seemed to be sure defeat into a resounding victory.
On Friday night at Patriot Field, the Sullivan East Patriots had their back to the wall with the Elizabethton Cyclones driving for, what could have been the decisive volley. East managed to hold ranks and pull off a stunning 13-12 win over the Cyclones further sending the Mountain Lakes Conference race into a tailspin with only four games remaining.
"It's a big stepping stone for us to defeat a team of Elizabethton's caliber," said Coach Ralph Nelson of his team's win. "This is a great day for Sullivan East football and a great day for Bluff City. It is huge."
East appeared poised to strike early, as the Patriots drove the ball deep into Elizabethton territory before Lester Bailey came up with an interception of a Matt Eads pass at the EHS 13-yard line.
After Bailey was thrown for a loss at the 11-yard line, a muffed exchange between Cyclone center Jake Jenkins and quarterback Weston Jeffers resulted in East lineman Blake Morgan picking up the loose ball and taking it in for six. East's two-point conversion failed and the Patriots were up 6-0.
Elizabethton responded with a seven play, 55-yard drive of its own to get back into the game. Using a balanced mix of pass and run, Jeffers covered the final yard of the drive on a quarterback sneak after fullback Justin Grace put the Cyclones at the door on a bruising run to the one.
Brian Freeman's extra point attempt hit the top of the left goal post, bounced back and fell no good to keep the game knotted at 6-6 with 2:53 left in the first quarter.
The second quarter was one filled with punts, penalties, and turnovers as neither team seemed to want to grab the momentum heading into the locker room at the intermission. Both teams went into the break at 6-6 and scratching their heads to figure out how to shake off the lackluster performance in the first half.
Taking the second-half kickoff, the Cyclones marched 60 yards in nine plays to punch in the go-ahead score on a four-yard plunge by Bailey. The pass attempt failed in an effort to push the lead to eight points, so the Cyclones had to settle for the 12-6 advantage.
Grace picked up a big chunk of his yardage on the scoring drive, collecting 32 of his 87 yards rushing.
The defense of the Cyclones managed to keep the Patriots off stride as it kept the pressure on Eads and company for a majority of the third quarter. Sophomore David Lyons and senior Josh Broyles played splendid in their first starts of the season to help show the way for Coach Eddie Pless' Cyclones.
Entering the fourth and final period, penalties bit the Cyclones on numerous occasions when it appeared it was getting ready to seal the win. A prime example of the penalty bug was when Bailey had a touchdown called back after the Cyclones were flagged for holding.
The winning drive for East came after the Cyclones had moved the ball before stalling out to force a decision on whether to punt the ball over to East or go for the first down marker. Pless and staff called a timeout and decided to allow Brandon Blevins the opportunity to pin the Patriots deep on a sideline punt.
Blevins punt rolled into the end zone and East faced the daunting task of going 80 yards with just a few minutes remaining in the contest. Eads showed the way for the Patriots with probably the biggest scamper of the night, taking the ball down the right side of the field for a 50-yard gain.
"That 50-yard run that Eads had was one play that put them into position to get something done," said Pless. "Our defense had played well all night, so I know that had to account for a large part of East's offensive totals."
Nelson used a steady diet of Eads and running back Josh Wright, the Patriots moved the ball to the one-yard line where Eads took it in on a keeper. With the score even at 12-12, East decided to put Wright into the spotlight by allowing him to kick the important extra point attempt for the lead.
Wright split the uprights for the 13-12 edge, and Elizabethton had a few ticks over two minutes to get within at least field goal range.
Moving the ball inside the Patriot 30, EHS still had life left with 43 seconds remaining, but a crucial holding penalty forced the Cyclones to go for a long fourth down after getting the first down during the penalty.
Jeffers pass for Adam Turley went over Turley's head and the East fans and families rushed the field for the celebration as the clock wound down to zero.
The Cyclones were without head coach Tommy Jenkins, who missed the game due to health reasons.
"Even though we won, I can't help but have mixed emotions because I really feel for Coach Jenkins and his family in all he is going through," said Nelson. "I really respect Coach Jenkins and our prayers are with him and his family for a speedy recovery."
With all the circumstances surrounding the Cyclone program the last few weeks, Coach Pless was the first to admit there aren't any excuses for the performance of the Cyclones.
"I know we've had distractions, but there aren't any excuses for the way we've played," said Pless. "We have played the same without all these distractions and the problem is we don't play the entire game, only in parts of it."
Grace paced the offensive output for the Cyclones by carrying the ball 11 times for 87 yards while Bailey garnered 18 carries for 63 yards and one touchdown.
Turley hauled in five receptions for 86 yards and Nathan Bishop chipped in with three receptions for 35 yards.
Derek Nave and Bishop tallied eight stops each, with Turley recording four. Conners, Broyles, Charles Peters, Kelly Adkins, Bailey, Logan Hyatt, Frank Hardy, and Lyons all recorded three tackles each for the Cyclones.
Elizabethton will now travel to Daniel Boone next to face an always-tough Trailblazer team, which upset the Johnson County Longhorns in other action Friday night. The decision will be made sometime over the next week whether Pless will continue to lead the team in Jenkins' absence.
East is now 3-3 overall and 1-2 in the conference while Elizabethton drops to 2-4 overall and 2-1 in the conference. The Patriots earned their third all-time victory over the Cyclones, with the other wins occurring in 1973 and 1974.