Cyclones clinch MLC title

By Ivan Sanders
The Unicoi County Blue Devils were hoping to pull some Halloween mischief a day early by reaching into its bag of tricks to find a way to throw a monkey wrench into the Elizabethton Cyclones march to the Mountain Lakes title.
For one half of football, Unicoi County with some help from the yellow hanky managed to stay within reach of the Cyclones trailing by only eight at the half. The second half was a different story as Elizabethton shut down the Blue Devils 19-0 to take a 34-7 win at Brown-Childress Stadium to clinch the conference title and home field advantage in the playoffs.
"People kind of wrote us off after the loss to Sullivan East and caused a little down-time for us as a team," said Cyclone head coach Tommy Jenkins after his team's win. "These assistant coaches and players deserve a lot of recognition because of the hard work they have put in since that time and how they have got the job done."
Elizabethton wasted little time in denting the scoring column by cashing in on an eight-yard touchdown run by Lester Bailey after Adam Turley hauled in a 32-yard pass from Weston Jeffers to start the contest. Bailey squeezed in an additional 22-yards on the drive while Justin Grace added eight more to take the 6-0 edge after the extra point failed.
Unicoi County could seem to get a grasp on the ball in its opening drive as quarterback Corey Schwenke fumbled the first snap of the drive with Kelly Adkins pouncing on the ball to set the Cyclones up in good field position at the Blue Devil 27-yard line.
The Jeffers to Turley connection worked once again to perfection as the duo teamed up on a 21-yard scoring strike on a third down play to nudge the lead to 12-0 with the two-point conversion failing at the 8:07 mark of the first quarter.
Unicoi County finally broke the ice on its side of the scoring ledger after the Cyclones Brandon Blevins pinned the Blue Devils at its own one-yard line with a little over four minutes left in the opening quarter.
UC used a remarkable 17-play drive that carried all the way to 7:47 showing on the game clock in the first half with Aaron Saylor churning out the final six-yards to get his team on the board. Emanuel Mendoza booted the extra point and the lead was shaved to 12-7.
The Cyclones appeared to get another big play from Bailey as the speed merchant raced 96-yards to the end zone only to see the yellow hanky pull the run back. EHS was called for 11 infractions in the half to only one for Unicoi County.
A Brian Freeman 35-yard field goal with :06 left before intermission gave the Cyclones a little padding by taking a 15-7 lead at the break.
"We played with a lot of emotion early in the game and started to move the ball really well," said Blue Devil head coach Larry Howell. "Then we had the turnover and the field goal by Elizabethton before the half that just took the wind out of our sails."
The third quarter saw a different Cyclone team as the defensive unit bowed it's neck and stuffed everything the Unicoi team tried to execute in the second half.
Bailey added another score on a three-yard scamper and Brad Osborne flexed his muscle to bull in from two-yards out as the third period ended to turn what was once a close game into a 27-7 edge after three complete.
"We really came together in the second half and the offensive line did a great job," said Osborne, who had six carries for 50-yards and the score. "We just have tons of momentum right now and we are expecting to do really well in the playoffs."
Jeffers closed out the scoring in the contest with a two-yard quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter to seal the win at 34-7 after Freeman's extra point was true. Elizabethton just missed another score as James Peterson snared an interception and was finally stopped by the last defender between him and the goal line at the UC 16-yard line after a 39-yard return.
Said linebacker Kelly Adkins: "We finally have met one of our major accomplishments with this win that we had set out to do from the beginning and that was to win the conference championship. This is something that we will remember for the rest of our lives and it really helps us to know that we will be playing here at home through the playoffs."
Bailey finished the night by breaking the 1000-yard barrier for the season with 141 yards on 16 carries and the two touchdowns. Grace added 12 carries for 83 yards while Peterson also showed signs of brilliance with five carries for 41-yards.
Jeffers finished the evening by connecting on four of seven passes for 76 yards and the one rushing touchdown. Turley was the leading receiver with three catches for 69-yards and a score.
Josh Broyles led the defensive charge with seven tackles while Nathan Bishop collected six stops. Justin Conners and Logan Hyatt added five tackles, with four stops being recorded each by Grace, Cody Bunton, and Frank Hardy. Bunton, Hyatt, and David Bray all added a quarterback sack each from the defensive side of the ball.
Elizabethton will meet Cherokee next Friday night at Brown-Childress Stadium in the first round of the playoffs at 7 p.m., since Morristown West defeated the Chiefs 33-14 last night.
"A lot of teams will be turning in their gear after tomorrow night, but we have done what it takes to play a little longer," said Jenkins. "I'm just tickled to death to get this win for the title, not only for the kids but for our school and community. It feels great!"