Cyclones try to reverse early outcome

By Allen LaMountain

   In week two at Stone Castle in Bristol, the Tennessee High Vikings ran their record to 2-0 and virtually eliminated the Elizabethton Cyclones from winning their eighth consecutive Big Eight Conference title with a 15-7 decision.
   That win spurred the Vikings on to an unbeaten season, which sees them ranked 10th in the state in the TSSAA power rankings at the 4-A level.
   The early loss sent 'Betsy into a tailspin that saw them fall to 1-4 and had people wondering if the Cyclones weren't a bit overrated, since they were coming in as conference favorites in many folks' minds.
   On Friday night the two will clash again at Stone Castle, but this time it's do or die as they collide in round two of the TSSAA 4-A playoffs.
   "We are glad to have the opportunity to play them again," said Cyclone head coach Tommy Jenkins. "They beat our brains out the last time, and they come in highly ranked in the state. They are 11-0, but we're glad to be getting another crack at them."
   What will it take for the Cyclones to overcome the seemingly mighty Vikings ?
   "First of all this is a totally different team than the last time," said Cyclone safety Neal Wandell. "Tennessee High is a good team, they're 11-0, but we know what we have to do. We think we're a better ballclub than when we played them the last time."
   They are certainly a hotter team having won six straight games, and while people may say that Elizabethton hasn't beaten anyone in that stretch, the teams it beat are the same ones that Tennessee High built its unbeaten season on.
   Since week three the Vikings have beaten in order: Daniel Boone, Virginia High, Unicoi County, Sullivan South, Sullivan Central, Johnson County, and Sullivan East. They struggled in round one against a Cocke County team that barely got past Volunteer the last week of the season.
   Vikings head coach Greg Stubbs knows that no matter how bad you beat a team once, it's always harder the second time around, saying: "In a way you hate to see a game like this. Our rivalry with Elizabethton has been great over the years, but sometimes it's tough when you have played once already to get back to that mindset. Especially in a playoff, that's much harder."
   For the Cyclones the mindset is already there, and they are looking to prove something to the Vikings this time around.
   "Our motivation is that they beat us out of the conference championship," said Cyclone fullback Jason Grace. "We were kind of young on both sides of the ball the last time we played and I think this team has grown a lot since then."
   To a man the Cyclones feel that if they had played better offensively the first time around, that the decision could have gone their way.
   "We have to step up on offense," said Cyclone quarterback Ryan Curtis. "I think the defense held their own the last time, and I think (the Vikings) defense is too good to let them get all over us like they did the last time. We'll be ready this time, we want to beat them bad."
   Curtis will be a key for the Cyclones. If he continues his hot hand throwing the ball, it will open things up in the running game for Grace and tailback Walter Brown.
   Brown, who is nursing an injured ankle, had a solid game against Cherokee rushing for 88 yards and a touchdown in 'Betsy's 13-12 win in round one.
   "Curtis is definitely a concern," remarked Stubbs. "He's the type of kid who has a good strong arm and can stretch the defense. What we have been able to do all year is play good defense and make people go the distance against it. Our turnover ratio has been a plus all year."
   That will be of primary concern as the Cyclones have turned the ball over a number of times in the past few weeks and they know they will have to eliminate those types of mistakes to have a chance.
   Another key for 'Betsy will be the play of the offensive line, which has improved immensely over the past weeks.
   "I think we are definitely better this time around. We're a totally different team", said Cyclone offensive lineman Weston Peters. "Right now, the season starts over and we're both 1-0, so I think that if the offensive line plays a good game we have a real good shot at beating them."
   The Cyclone defense will be up against a rushing offense that was tops in the conference with a loaded backfield of wingback Boodle Clark, halfback Josh Walden and fullback Mark Messer along with quarterback Brad Deal.
   "If we can get the offense to score and the defense to play like we did last time, we shouldn't have a problem," said Cyclone defensive tackle John Jativa. "We didn't score a touchdown on offense last time, we had a kickoff return and we only had something like 38 yards of offense. We will have to play a lot harder than we did in the first game."