Cyclones to tackle Chiefs in opening round

By Allen LaMountain

ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR

   With a five game winning streak on the line, the Elizabethton Cyclones open the 'second season' with a visit to Rogersville to take on the Cherokee Chiefs tonight.
   Cherokee finished it's regular season with an 8-2 mark -- best in school history -- but dropped a 41-0 tally to Morristown West last week in a game for all the conference marbles.
   "We got rid of a lot of baggage on Monday," said Cherokee head coach Mike Sivert. "A loss like we had to West can take a lot out of you, but I'm proud of the kids. They have had good focus all week in practice."
   Cherokee returns to the playoffs after a one-year layoff, despite a 6-4 record in 2000, but a poor conference mark left the Chiefs on the outside looking in.
   "My seniors came into this season with an eye on improving in conference games," said Sivert. "We finished 6-4 last year, but won just two conference games, so we didn't make the playoffs. That didn't sit well with us."
   Cherokee will field the best offensively balanced team the Cyclones have seen since week five against Greeneville, and that is of concern to Cyclone head coach Tommy Jenkins.
   "If (Sandefur) can go, he's a heck of a thrower," said Jenkins. "They have a good group of runners, and I think that if you can run and throw, it keeps your defense off balance."
   Sandefur threw 10 touchdowns for the Chiefs on the season, with just three interceptions registered against him. Three times this season Sandefur threw for better than 100 yards, with his best game coming against David Crockett when he passed for 187 yards and three scores.
   Sandefur is hobbled by a knee injury, and various reports have him out of the game or at least not 100%, but Sivert claimed that, "Sandefur should be close to 100 percent. We have been pretty much able to escape injury all season."
   The Chiefs main running threat is halfback David Stephens, who finished the season just 61 yards shy of 1,000 for the year, and was held in check by a tough Trojan squad in week 10.
   "Morristown West really did a good job of keying on Stephens all night," commented Sivert. "We tried to open up with the passing game, but they were just tough. They got off to a lead and we couldn't come back."
   The Cyclones come into this contest off a 40-14 drubbing of Unicoi County, but haven't turned the skeptics into believers just yet, despite a season ending win streak.
   EHS tailback Walter Brown should be healthy, having sat out the Blue Devils contest, and he should prove to be a handful for the Chiefs. Brown tallied 698 yards on the season for a 6.5 yard per carry average, with eight touchdowns to his credit for the season.
   Fullbacks Jason Grace and John Jativa rushed for 498 and 116 yards respectively, and are both solid blockers and pass receivers out of the backfield.
   Junior Ryan Curtis reached the 1,000 yard mark on the season, with 18 scoring passes to his credit, but he was picked off 10 times on the season.
   Curtis however has been a red-hot passer in recent weeks, having forged a connection with flanker Neal Wandell and split end Lester Bailey.
   Wandell caught 14 passes for 419 yards (29.9 ypc), with nine scoring receptions. Wandell was also a force on special teams with three kickoff returns for scores on the year.
   Wandell -- a senior -- will be called upon, along with the other seniors on the squad to raise their leadership skills to another level in this contest.
   "We will rely a large part on our seniors in this game," said Jenkins. "We will rely upon their leadership. We have to have that, and they have done a good job all year. I have been pleased with that. They are a good group of kids."
   Bailey is super-fast and can make the tough catch, but fumbles have been a problem for him, but if he's open Curtis will find him. Bailey caught 12 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns on the season, and also returned a pair of punts for scores.
   A somewhat neglected, but potentially explosive force in the Cyclone offense has been junior tight end Vince Redd, who has played mostly on defense for EHS. With Redd's height (6'-6") he is perfect for the 'red(d)-zone' offense, and he could factor largely in this game.
   EHS hasn't lost in the first round of the playoffs in recent memory, and a loss to Cherokee would be tough for coach Jenkins and his staff to take, saying, "It would be a big disappointment, but Cherokee is the toughest first round opponent we have faced. We carry some momentum into this game in a sense, and we have scored quite a few points this year."
   Game time is moved up to 7 p.m. for all playoff games.