Elizabethton on verge of playoff spot
For all practical purposes, a state playoff berth is on the line tonight when the Sullivan Central Cougars (0-5, 2-6) invade Rider Field for a Mountain Lakes Conference showdown with the Elizabethton Cyclones (2-3, 4-4).
'Betsy is riding high after a 21-6 win at Johnson County while Central is licking their chops after being drubbed by Tennessee High, 42-0.
"Central has some good players returning off of last year's squad," said Cyclone head coach Eddie Pless. "At this point of the season, we can't afford to look past anyone."
After opening week zero with a 17-13 win over David Crockett, the Cougars have falling on hard times. Excluding their 24-21 win over Volunteer and a 33-20 loss at Sullivan North, Central has scored only 14 points in the five other losses.
The Cougars have been outscored 219 to 75, suffering shutouts at the hands of Tennessee High, Sullivan East and Johnson County. The Cyclones are on a two-game winning streak, but know the Cougars can be a dangerous opponent.
"They have the leading receiver in the conference back from last season and their line is much bigger than us, which could pose a problem," Pless said. "The last time they were here we got a thumping laid on us."
Central surprised 'Betsy 16-6 two years ago.
The Cyclones will counter with some offensive weapons of their own. Weston Jeffers continued his stellar play last week, throwing for 213 yards on 14-of-19 passing against Johnson County. Jeffers' favorite target is Ryan Kennedy, who gathered six passes for 123 yards against Johnson County.
Kennedy is the leading the Mountain Lakes Conference in receiving with 29 catches for 476 yards, and has grabbed two touchdowns.
Nathan Bishop has 18 catches on the season while Levi Hooten is averaging 18 yards per grab. Derek Nave has 10 catches, with three receptions accounting for touchdowns.
The Cyclones need to establish the run against the Cougar front four. James Peterson has been the workhorse with 486 yards on the season while Steven Bowers, Brent Shaver, Mitchell Blevins and Josh Hutchins add some much-needed depth to the backfield.
No Cyclone is listed in the top 10 conference scoring leaders, but 14 'Betsy players have tacked on points. Brian Freeman leads the attack with 29 while Nave has 20 to his credit.
Elizabethton has outscored its opposition 125 to 115 on the season.
The defense has been brilliant at times but letdown some last week at Johnson County after jumping out to a 21-0 lead. More than half the Longhorn offense came late in the fourth quarter, but Trevor Hyder will return in the line after missing last week's game with a leg injury.
"Central pushed us around earlier this year in the jamboree, so we've got to come out focused and ready to play," Pless said. "In our conference, you've got to prepare every week because you always face a quality opponent.
"Some good teams in our league with winning records will be at home during the playoffs. We know now that we control our own destiny. I hope we have a good turnout for our seniors and this football team. This could be the last time they every get to play at home in a Cyclone football uniform."
Note: Elizabethton could play at home again providing they could reach the third round of the playoffs.