Elizabethton shakes off Sullivan Central
Photo by John Bryant
Cyclone tailback James Peterson (21) went over the 100-yard rushing mark against Sullivan Central.
By Tim Chambers
With Christmas only two months away, the Elizabethton Cyclones tried to get an early start on the giving season Friday night at Rider Field. Gift-wrapping three touchdowns by way of turnovers in the first half, the Cyclones managed a 45-28 win over Sullivan Central, clinching a berth in the Class 4-A playoffs.
The game featured more mistakes than a George Bush/John Kerry debate.
"I was proud of the kids the way they overcame all the distractions and mistakes on the field," stated Cyclone head coach Eddie Pless. "Not to take nothing away from Central, but we handed them three scores in the first half."
Elizabethton wasted no time in taking the early lead after a mishandled kickoff gave the Cyclones poor field position at the 17-yard line. James Peterson ripped off a 27-yard run before Steven Bowers had a 9-yard run.
A 37-yard screen pass from Weston Jeffers to Steven Bowers gave 'Betsy possession at the three. James Peterson's three-yard run, followed by Brian Freeman's extra point, gave the Cyclones a 7-0 lead.
Elizabethton stuffed Central on its opening drive following a 41-yard kickoff return from Jeremy Nash. After regaining possession, the Cyclones tried another screen pass in the flat, but Michael Hooks was there for the interception, and returned it 25 yards for the touchdown, tying the score at 7.
Central got another present later in the quarter when the Cyclones drove to the 5 and appeared ready to retake the lead. Good runs by Peterson of 26 yards and Josh Hutchins for 12 more placed the ball at the 5.
On the next play Jake Berkley was hit in the backfield, resulting in a fumble. Justin Miller scooped up the loose football and raced 95 yards, giving Central a 14-7 lead with 3:09 remaining in the first quarter.
Elizabethton bounced back to tie the game on its next possession. Weston Jeffers found a streaking Nathan Bishop down the left sideline for a 77-yard touchdown, then Freeman booted the PAT.
The Cyclones used a bad snap near the end of the first period to set up their third score. Peterson's 19-yard run led to a 3-yard touchdown plunge from Jeffers, giving 'Betsy a 21-14 with 10:54 remaining in the second quarter.
Later in the half, more drama occurred than on stage at the Barter Theater, and game officials became more confused than a porcupine in a helium balloon factory.
Levi Hooten's interception and return to the 'Betsy 12 led to a 37-yard field goal try. The attempt was blocked and returned by Central for an apparent Cougar touchdown. With flags thrown late from every direction, the scene was set for total melee.
A legal procedure penalty against the Cyclones and a personal foul call after the blocked kick against the Cougars factored in two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties being assessed on Cougar head coach Mike Hooks. It took 15 minutes to sort things out, but the call was not the right one.
According to the rules, Central should have declined the penalty against Elizabethton and had the football 15 yards back from where the personal foul call occurred. The Cyclones instead got a first down that later set up a fake field goal try on fourth down. 'Betsy scored a touchdown but the yellow hankies came flying again.
This time Elizabethton was called for illegal motion, much to the disbelief of the Cyclone coaching staff. Realizing that Central got the gold mine and he got the shaft, Pless called timeout to confer with the men in stripes.
Pless was assessed a 15-yard penalty and the touchdown was taken off the board. Finally the happy hankies were tucked away, and football was ready to resume.
Instead of seven points the Cyclones came away with a 7-play, minus three-yard drive that resulted in a 41-yard field goal by Freeman, giving 'Betsy a 24-14 lead.
"It feels good knowing that my coaches have confidence in my kicking abilities," said Freeman. "They always stress to me that I'm an important part of this team."
Central got its next score when Peterson coughed up the football into the waiting arms of Tanner Looney. Looney returned the fumble for a 22-yard score edging Central closer at 24-21 with 2:47 remaining in the half.
'Betsy mounted a three-play, 56-yard drive to tack on another score just before halftime. A 24-yard pass to Bowers set up a splendid 30-yard catch and run from Jeffers to J.C. Atkinson.
Atkinson broke two tackles and made three people miss en route to the end zone. Elizabethton led 31-21 at the half.
The Cyclone defense continued to dominate the Central offense early in the third as Charles Peters and Derek Nave would dominating the entire field. Nave had 13 solo tackles and Peters 11, with both players making numerous assists.
"I wanted to come out and play hard tonight in front of our Cyclone fans because it's been a special four for me," stated Nave. "It was a must win so I just tried to be a leader and keep everyone up on the field."
'Betsy increased its lead to 38-21 with 9.4s second remaining in the third as Atkinson took a short pass and dazzled the crowd with a 41-yard touchdown.
The early part of the fourth quarter was all Cyclones as Trevor Hyder and Matt Fox came up with big defensive plays that stalled the Central offense while Berkley and Bishop were able to make tackles on the league's premier receiver, Jeff Beverly, to prevent touchdowns.
A 23-yard pass from Jeffers to Hutchins set up a 25-yard catch and touchdown run by Ryan Kennedy, giving 'Betsy a 45-21 lead. Central got its final score when Jordan Shipley fired a 12-yard pass to Beverly, who lateraled to Brian Clark the final 58 yards for the score.
Peterson carried 17 times for 113 yards to lead the ground game behind some outstanding blocking from Hyder and Tony Sullivan.
"I've just tried as hard as could to help my team," said Sullivan. "I've been getting to play at several position, but now they've got me at tackle. It feels good knowing we've reached he playoffs."
Added Hyder, "The only people that was going to beat us tonight was ourselves. We just had to quit making mistakes and play good football. I thought we did that in the second half."
Jared Taylor, senior got his first career start as a Cyclone and was happy about the outcome.
"It felt good being out there but we made too many mistakes. We'll be ready for next week and the playoffs," added Taylor.
Jeffers completed 8 of 13 for 262 yards and four touchdowns. He was aided by some outstanding runs after the catch by the fleet-footed Cyclone receivers. Atkinson had two catches for 70 yards and two scores while Bowers hauled in two more for 61 yards.
Kennedy gathered two for 31 and a touchdown, and Bishop's 77-yard touchdown reception was a thing of beauty. The Cyclones amazed 452 yards of total offense.
"We were hurting ourselves early in the game with the mistakes so we talked about taking care of the football at halftime," added Pless. "Central was big and caused us some problems up front, but the overall effort was good by our kids."
"We had several kids step up an play well in key games for us," added Pless. "I feel like we've come along way over the course of the season."