Cyclones look to protect title hopes in game at Central

By Ivan Sanders
One year ago, the Sullivan Central Cougars came to Elizabethton's Brown-Childress Stadium and pinned a big loss on the Cyclones in a game that head coach Tommy Jenkins admitted his team wasn't prepared for.
Tonight, the Cyclones will be playing in the first of two straight Thursday night contests, in Blountville against the Cougars.
The stakes are high because the Cyclones can maintain a course for a conference championship and homefield advantage in the playoffs, or the Cougars could once again play the role of spoiler by dealing the Cyclones a second straight defeat and possibly a third-place finish in the Mountain Lakes Conference.
The Cyclones are also hoping to present Coach Jenkins with a big welcome-home gift when its mentor returns from a visit to John Hopkins Hospital for a few more medical tests. A win would definitely bring a huge smile from the Cyclone general.
"On paper Central is unbelievably talented," said Coach Eddie Pless, who once again will be directing the team in Jenkins absence. "This is a game where we are playing for an opportunity to play Unicoi County next week for a conference championship, and just because Central has run into hard times lately doesn't mean they aren't going to be ready to knock us out of that opportunity."
Elizabethton will have its hands full against the Cougars as Central boasts individual players who are at the top of almost all of the Mountain Lakes Conference statistics.
Zach Frye is the most prolific player, being the second leading rusher in the conference with 155 attempts for 875 yards and 12 touchdowns. Frye also has hauled in 20 receptions for 365 yards and one touchdown, good enough for a tie for fourth with teammate Matt Dunford, who has 20 receptions for 307 yards and four scores.
Jeff Beverly leads the conference in receiving with 33 receptions for 376 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Tyler Harvey has found several targets during the season to connect on 82 of 158 passes for 1,133 yards and eight touchdowns.
"Frye is an excellent running back, one who knows how to follow his blockers well," said Pless. "Central also has a good fullback in Ryan Davenport who has nearly 60 carries on the season. They are just a big, physical team on both sides of the ball."
Elizabethton counters with tailback Lester Bailey, coming off an outstanding performance against Johnson County last week with 209 yards rushing to move into third place in the league with 778 yards on 110 carries and 10 touchdowns.
Adam Turley ranks second in the conference with 24 receptions for 367 yards and three TDs while quarterback Weston Jeffers has hit on 31 of 69 for 368 yards and two scores.
Bailey knows that after his performance last week that Central will be looking to keep him at bay. Still, the speedy back also realizes that the Cyclones are a different team than they were early in the season.
"We know they will come out ready, especially after losing that close one to Tennessee High last week," said Bailey. "They may try to shut me down, but this is about team and they will have to watch this whole team and shut down more than just me."
The Cyclones have seemed to get their offensive woes worked out and have placed some hefty scores on the board the last few games. With the ability of Central to score as well, the contest could easily turn into a high-scoring affair with the winner being determined by the team that makes the least mistakes and commits the fewest turnovers.
Realizing what lies ahead from a defensive standpoint, the Cyclones know the key will be to keep Frye in the freezer and force Harvey to scramble by covering his receivers like the snow in the Himalayan Mountains.
"We need to stop Zach Frye and the running game, plus the big tight end they have to have a chance to win," stated linebacker Derek Nave. "We are approaching this as the biggest game of the season and will need to play our best game to win. They are a good team and we will need to execute every down."
Added linebacker Kelly Adkins: "We will be concentrating on shutting Frye down the best we can. He's very tough so our defense will have to be prepared to stop him. Everybody gets pumped to beat Elizabethton, and Central will be looking to knock us off the top by doing whatever it takes. We've played really well the last two weeks and we need to step it up another notch higher this week."
There is no doubt the game will be filled with excitement at every turn. The one thing the Cyclones must focus on is the goals set prior to the season and that was bringing the title back to Elizabethton.
The win against Tennessee High in week two was big, but will not mean a thing unless the Cyclones dig deep within themselves to see just how badly the title means to them. Central is still in the running and wants to position themselves for home field in the playoffs as well.
Said Pless: "This will definitely be a huge challenge for our team. We will need people that are not always in the spotlight to step up and pick up the slack. Lester can make some exciting things happen when he touches the ball, but Central will be looking to keep the big plays from happening. We need to come out and move the ball consistently, protect the ball, and cut out penalties to win this game."
Kickoff is slated at 7:30.