EHS freshmen clinch share of league title

By Ivan Sanders
STAR STAFF
isanders@starhq.com
The Elizabethton freshman team started its last game of the season missing the plug that has sparked the program for the last few years in Coach Ryan Witten. Yet, the visiting Central Cougars could only wonder what the outcome would have been like had the inspirational Witten been on the sidelines for the season finale.
After beginning the contest in a scoreless fashion in the first quarter, the Cyclone frosh exploded for 14 points in the second period to gain the momentum needed to carry the Elizabethton team to at least a share of the conference title with a 34-0 shutout of Central at Brown-Childress Stadium Tuesday night.
"We told the defensive unit before the ballgame that if they don't score, they can't win," said coach Rick Wagner of the Cyclones performance. "Our line started to block in the third quarter and I think it was super the way we responded."
EHS got things going in the second period after Cyclone quarterback Preston Smith rolled to his right on fourth down and seven for a 12-yard gain to the Central 19-yard line. After an illegal participation penalty against the Cougars moved the ball to the 14-yard line, Smith faked a toss the left and darted to the end zone unscathed for the touchdown and a 6-0 lead after the extra point failed.
The two teams exchanged possessions before the Cyclone defense struck by stripping the ball free from the Cougar quarterback and recovering at the Cougar 25-yard line with 2:34 remaining in the half.
Smith went to the air and found Austin Taylor at the one-yard line after Smith threaded the needle between two Cougar defenders. Brent Shaver busted through the Cougar line for the one-yard score with Smith hitting Josh Guinn for the two-point conversion to push the Cyclones up 14-0 at the intermission.
"Our coaches opened up the passing game after they got some confidence in me," said Smith. "Our line has also blocked a lot better since the Dobyns-Bennett game, which has made a lot of difference in our last three games."
Elizabethton came out hotter than a red-hot poker in the third quarter as Weston Isaacs ignited the crowd and his team with an explosive 84-yard punt return to pay dirt with 5:10 showing on the third-quarter clock.
"Central was one of the toughest teams we have played all season," said Isaacs in reflecting back on the score. "It felt great to get the score and we just had to work hard to pull this win out."
The extra point try failed after Isaacs score, but the Cyclones had the Cougars pinned tight in a cage with a 20-0 advantage.
Defense was the name of the game on the Cougars possession as the Cyclones forced Central to boot the ball back to them at midfield. Central managed to hold and force a forth down situation when EHS caught the Cougars on its heels.
Justin Harmon saw Donyale Watson wide open on the Cyclone side of the field and checked off the punt to air a perfect 28-yard strike to Watson at the Cougar 22.
After losing a yard on a running play, Smith found Taylor again for a 23-yard scoring strike and a 28-0 Cyclone edge coming on the heels of a Drew Hyder two-point conversion pass to a wide-open Smith in the Cougar end zone.
The Cougars couldn't handle the ensuing kickoff and the Cyclones jumped all over the loose pigskin at the Central 34-yard line. Harmon, a bruising fullback, charged through the line on the first play from scrimmage and took the ball to the house for the final score of the evening with the kick failing.
Central did have an opportunity to score, but Jordan Lewis made an outstanding open-field tackle and help force the Cougars to go for a fourth down try at the EHS 12-yard line with :20 left to play.
The Cyclone defense was just too outstanding on this night, as Everette Thomas caught the Cougar quarterback in the backfield and saddled him for a five-yard loss to turn the ball back over to EHS and hand the victory to the Cyclones.
With the win, the freshman Cyclones finished out its 2003 slate with an outstanding 6-2 overall record and 5-1 in the conference. With the win, Elizabethton will enjoy a share of the conference freshman title with Tennessee High, which had defeated the Cyclones earlier in the season.