Lead slips away from 'Betsy in loss to Pats
Don't blame the Sullivan East Patriots for thinking that Christmas might come early this year. Friday night they got the perfect gift by way of the Cyclones to remain undefeated in Mountain Lakes Conference and overall play.
Holding on to dear life in the final three minutes of the contest, East survived with a 20-19 win over 'Betsy at Brown-Childress Stadium. Elizabethton amassed over 300 yards in offense against the explosive Patriots, but came up short when they needed the big play.
"When we needed a yard, we couldn't get a yard," said Cyclone head coach Eddie Pless. "You've got to be able to make big plays to win football games."
Elizabethton's inability to make big plays hurt them often throughout the contest. Blown coverages, a missed interception and a storming Patriot defense in the Cyclone backfield throughout the second half were just many factors that led to loss.
East wasted no time getting on the board as Michael Nidiffer rambled for 52 yards on the first play from scrimmage to set up a 28-yard touchdown pass from Matt Eads to Justin Leslie on the very next play. Only 29 seconds into the game, the Patriots led 7-0.
Elizabethton failed to move the football on its first two possessions, but a Dustin Colquitt-like punt by James Peterson pinned the Patriots on the two-yard line. After the first drive, the Cyclone defense rose to the occasion, holding East scoreless for the remainder of the half.
Elizabethton got the break it needed late in the first when East elected to go for a first down on fourth-and-8, but the black attack stuffed the Red regime, taking possession on the 48.
The Cyclones used a 30-yard run by Peterson to set up their first score, which came on the final play of the quarter. Weston Jeffers found Ryan Kennedy for a 28-yard TD, and Brian Freeman drilled the extra point to tie the score at 7.
"Our coaches saw some things East was doing that allowed me to get open during the game," Kennedy said. "Weston (Jeffers) did a good job of getting me the football."
East was driving in the second quarter but a big sack by Logan Hyatt on Eads spoiled the party. Elizabethton started its march only to fumble after a 16-yard pass reception, giving the Patriots another opportunity at a score.
The Cyclone defense then dug deep, with Nave stuffing Nidiffer for no gain, followed by a huge hits from Matt Fox and Justin Harmon.
Elizabethton got a key play on a 36-yard pass from Jeffers to Kennedy to set up its next score. At the 4:05 mark, Jeffers found Nave, who ran over two defenders for a 13-yard touchdown. Freeman's PAT gave 'Betsy a 14-7 lead.
The turning point of the contest came in the closing seconds of the half. The Cyclones used a 51-yard pass from Jeffers to Kennedy, helping get 'Betsy within an eyelash of the end zone.
With three chances to score at the two, East stuffed the first running play and had an apparent interception nullified because of a roughing-the-passer call.
Going for the touchdown, Peterson got nailed for no gain as time ran out, leaving the football within inches of paydirt. The Patriot line appeared to be in the Cyclone backfield.
Elizabethton opened the third quarter with Preston Smith at quarterback, and the sophomore signal caller helped the cause. A 22-yard completion to Steven Bowers led to a 35-yard field goal from Freeman for a 17-7 advantage.
After a mishandled kickoff return that backed East up on the 6, Justin Conner broke through the Patriot defense for a sack of Eads in the end zone. 'Betsy led 19-7 with 8:39 remaining in the third period.
East got the break it needed late in the third, when a Cyclone defender stepped in front of a Patriot receiver for an apparent interception with nothing but open field in front of him. But the ball went through the defender into the arms of Leslie, whose next stop was the end zone after 70 yards to close the gap at 19-13.
East had another scoring opportunity, but Smith stepped in front of Leslie to intercept Eads in the end zone.
The Patriots took the lead with 9:45 remaining in the game as Hunter Crowder reeled in an Eads offering for a 17-yard touchdown. Clark's PAT gave East a narrow 20-19 lead.
The Cyclones had several chances to take the lead, but key mistakes foiled their chances. At the 6:00 minute mark, 'Betsy was well within "Thunderfoot" Freeman's range but an interception stopped the drive.
Elizabethton got another opportunity after a 16-yard punt at the 4-minute mark, but came up empty handed when Jeffers was intercepted near the corner of the end zone. With the East crowd standing, 'Betsy stopped the Patriot offense once again, giving Elizabethton its final possession at the 45.
A key mistake proved costly inside the one-minute mark, when Betsy took a quarterback sack trying to run out of the pocket instead of throwing the football out of bounds to stop the clock.
On the final play of the game, Jeffers found Kennedy for a 23-yard completion but came up one yard shy of the first down marker as time ran out on the Cyclones.
Peterson played a big part in the Cyclone offense, rushing for 148 yards on 24 carries. Kennedy had a career night, grabbing five receptions for 145 yards, while Jeffers completed 10 of 19 for 168 yards and two touchdowns.
Nave had 10 stops to lead the defense, with Hyatt and Conner adding seven tackles each. Berkley recorded six stops while Fox and Harmon tallied five for the Cyclones.
Nidiffer led the East ground game with 95 yards on 16 carries while Eads rushed for 48 yards and threw for 171 on 8-of-20 passing.
"You take that first drive away and our defense made them work," Pless said. "We were so close many times to making big plays. We just couldn't get in done when we needed to.
"I don't think any of these kids could have played any harder than what they did. They didn't leave anything on the field."
Note: Elizabethton's chances were hurt by the limited availability of Charles Peters. The three-year starter at defensive back, suffering from a hip pointer, only played three minutes.
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