Cyclones steer past Longhorns


Photo by Danny Davis
Elizabethton wide receiver J.C. Atkinson evades Johnson County tacklers Robbie Moody and Josh Cornett (60).


STAR STAFF


  While many fast food restaurants offer the meal deal consisting of a burger, fries and drink, it was a trio of Cyclones who super-sized their performances in leading 'Betsy over Johnson County at Paul McEwen Stadium.
  Weston Jeffers, Derek Nave and Ryan Kennedy put up big numbers en route to a 21-6 win over Johnson County Friday night in an important Mountain Lakes Conference matchup.
  "We came out in the first half and played a good football game," said Cyclone head coach Eddie Pless. "I would have liked to seen up finish a little better."
  Johnson County came out strong, moving 41 yards on eight plays, but a costly fumble gave 'Betsy possession at the 26 yard line.
  "Turnovers and key penalties just killed us tonight," said Johnson County head coach Mike Atwood. "You can't do that against a good team like Elizabethton."
  Jeffers started the game much like he finished last week. The junior quarterback completed 5 of 5 passes, leading Elizabethton on a 10-play, 74-yard dive.
  Five different receivers caught passes, capped off by a 10-yard touchdown reception by tight end Derek Nave. Brian Freeman split the uprights for a 7-0 lead with 3:16 remaining in the first period.
  While the Longhorn offense sputtered, the Cyclones were clicking on all cylinders. On their second drive, the orange and black mixed the run and the pass, marching 80 yards in only eight plays.
  James Peterson ripped off runs of 21 and 10 yards, and Jeffers found Kennedy for a 39-yard completion. Three plays later, Jeffers located Nave for a 11-yard score, giving 'Betsy a 13-0 advantage with 6:35 remaining in the second quarter.
  The Longhorns tried to rally behind the running of Jesse Atwood and Nathan Paisley, but a big defensive stop by Nave on fourth down prevented the 'Horns from putting points on the board.
  Another opportunity got busted when Levi Hooton picked off a pass at the 23 yard line and returned it back to the 49.
  "When you play Johnson County, you've got to play the whole game," said Hooton. "We should have finished better, but we still have a shot at the playoffs."
  Elizabethton had another scoring opportunity late in the quarter but an interception by Cody Bryant foiled their efforts. The Cyclones had only three possessions in the first half, scoring on two.
  Elizabethton opened the second half trying to establish the run, with Peterson carrying for a first down. The Longhorn defense forced a Cyclone punt, but all would not be well in maroon country.
  Having to replace their punt returnee after an injury, a Longhorn tried to catch the ball on one bounce, only to have the wood laid to him by J.C. Atkinson, resulting in a fumble. Brent Shavers scooped up the loose pigskin and raced 18 yards for the score.
  Jeffers found Nave on the conversion for a 21-0 lead with 9:18 remaining in the third period.
  "That play broke our back," Atwood said. "Except for that play, I thought we outplayed them in the second half."
  The game got to be a defensive struggle as injuries plagued the Longhorns throughout the game, while the Cyclones substituted several players in key situations, trying to gain them some game experience.
  "We have several kids get on the field tonight at key times and for the most part did a good job," Pless said. "We got too relaxed with the lead and didn't finish the way we should have."
  Johnson County got its first score with 5:54 remaining in the game, riding the arm of Jesse Jenkins. Jenkins found Atwood for a 35-yard completion while Robbie Moody hauled in a 30-yard catch.
  Two players later, Atwood raced around right end for an 8-yard touchdown.
  "I was pleased with the way Jesse ran the football, and Jenkins hung in there near the end," Atwood said. "I saw some younger kids do some good things that is going to help us later down the road."
  The Cyclones kept the ball for nearly four minutes, thanks to a sensational 38-yard catch and run by Nathan Bishop.
  "We saw that they were giving us the short routes," Bishop said. "We just tried to take advantage of it."
  Johnson County marched deep in Cyclone territory late in the game, but turned the ball over on downs at the 14 with less than a minute to play.
  Matt Fox turned in a fine outing, recording seven tackles and five assists.
  "We all just tried to play as hard as we could because we want to go to the playoffs," Fox said. "Everyone gave it their all."
  Jake Berkley had a stellar performance, including 24 yards on four carries, and seven tackles on the defensive side.
  "Our offense has stepped up and starting playing well," Berkley said.
  "We are looking at every game like its a playoff game." "We've got to play our best and win out."
  Jeffers completed 14 of 19 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns. Kennedy gathered six grabs for 123 yards.
  Jenkins completed 7 of 17 for 173 yards, including a 55-yard pass to Paisley. Atwood led the Longhorn ground game with 72 yards rushing while hauling in two passes for 60 yards.
  The orange and black got some good defensive play from several different faces. Nave had 12 tackles for the game while Charles Peters, Mitchell Blevins and Bishop chipped in with eight each.
  "Anytime you can come up here and win it's a plus," added Pless. "This is a tough place to play and Mike and his staff have built a good program. We've got to regroup and focus our attention on Sullivan Central. At this stage of the season you got to come ready to play every game."