Elizabethton keeps marching on

Photo by Kristen Luther
Cyclone running back Steven Bowers rambles to the first touchdown of the game.

  Many people had Elizabethton dead in the water early in the season, but after 10 regular-season games and two playoff contests, the Cyclones are proving to be one of the biggest fish in the pond. Advancing to the TSSAA 4A state quarterfinals, 'Betsy knocked off Sullivan East 24-12 in a second-round contest at the Patriot Pasture Friday night.
  East was without the services of quarterback sensation Matt Eads, who missed the game due to surgery on his hand. Meanwhile, the Cyclones gave one of their performances of the season, especially with their running game.
  "Never have I ever been more proud of a group of kids than the ones that took the field tonight," stated Cyclone head coach Eddie Pless. "They've bought in to our scheme and continue to improve as a football team." "They just refuse to fold."
  East was unable to move the ball on its opening possession resulting in a 16-yard punt by Troy Clark. The Cyclones used a ball control offense to take a 7-0 advantage.
  James Peterson had a 13-yard run while Weston Jeffers picked up seven yards on a quarterback sneak keeping the drive alive on a third down. Five plays later, Steven Bowers raced in from 10 yards out staking 'Betsy to the early lead. Brian Freeman added the extra point with 7:15 remaining in the first period.
  "We knew we could run on them," stated Bowers. "It was just a matter or us making the right kind of blocks, then breaking it through on them.
  Unable to move the football, East got a huge break when Keith Hughes blocked a Cyclone punt giving the Patriots possession at the Cyclone 20. Three plays later Michael Nidiffer's six-yard run closed the gap at 7-6. A dropped pass on the two-point conversion prevented the Patriots from taking the lead.
  The Cyclones struck back thanks to an electrifying 53-yard kickoff return by J.C. Atkinson but a fumble inside the 20 prevented 'Betsy from putting points on the board. After two big defensive stops by Derek Nave and Matt Fox the Cyclones got another scoring opportunity. Freeman barely missed on a 44-yard field goal attempt after a high snap forced Peterson to hesitate on his attempt.
  East appeared ready to take the lead after driving 56 yards near the end of the half, but a spectacular interception by Charles Peters foiled the Patriot hopes. It was also the start of a momentum swing that saw 'Betsy mount its best offensive drive of the season to start the third period.
  "It's awesome to win and advance to the third round of the playoffs," said Peters. "I wanted to make a difference because I didn't get to play against them the last time."
  "I felt like I could be a factor so I was happy to make a big play." "I didn't want them to have the momentum going into the half."
  Coming out smoking like the Cannonball Express, the Cyclones steamrolled down the field behind the tenacious blocking of the offensive line. Trevor Hyder, Tony Sullivan, Josh Arnold, Matt Fox, Logan Hyatt, Zack Potter and Nave kept pushing East backward while Peterson looked like a Heisman Trophy candidate.
  The Cyclones marched 65 yards in 11 plays, all on the ground, to take the lead. Peterson lugged the pigskin seven times for 47 yards during the drive capped off by his five-yard touchdown run.
  "It was not my plan to run the ball like that to start the quarter," said Pless. "But after that first run you could see it in our players eyes that they were frustrated. The overall feeling was we could have done better running the football in the second quarter, and those kids wanted to prove they could in the second half.
  "Running the football was what we needed to happen and our kids were determined to rush the football."
  The defensive line kept pressuring Hicks throughout the second half, while Justin Connor and Logan Hyatt kept fleet-footed quarterback from getting to the outside.
  Hyatt had a field day with seven quarterback pressures along with six solo stops to lead the orange crush defense. Mitchell Blevins, David Lyons and Fox were plugging up holes like thick grease in a one-inch drainpipe while Nave was roaming the field like lion looking for his prey. Nave accounted for 10 hits during the contest.
  "We knew earlier in the year when they beat us that we couldn't get down because we might see them again," stated Blevins. "Our defense has been stepping up every game, but Pete (Peterson) stepping up tonight gave our offense a big boost."
  East tried to fake a punt, but Fox wasn't on the run. The senior linebacker stopped Brad Broyles in his tracks, giving Elizabethton perfect field position at the East 48.
  "This was a big win for us," stated Fox. "They had beaten us once so we felt like we had to get them back."
  Leading 14-6 going into the final quarter, the orange crush decided to go for the jugular. Jeffers found Bowers across the middle for 11 yards setting up the next score.
  Blevins pounded in from four yards out, surging the Cyclones to a 21-6 lead with 10:36 remaining in the contest.
  Elizabethton had another opportunity to pad its cushion, but a fumble on the three-yard line kept East hanging on by a thread.
  Without Eads, the high-powered Patriot offense struggled. A fourth-down try was stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey by the 'Betsy defense, that led to another score.
  The Cyclones elected to call upon 1-800 golden toe, and the senior kicker didn't disappoint. Freeman's 22-yard field goal was perfect and so was the rendition of the Betsy fight song which sounded victory for the Cyclone faithful.
  Peterson had a standout performance rushing 26 times for 120 yards and a touchdown. Bowers proved his worth with some pinpoint blocking that allowed Freeman some gaping holes to run through.
  "I knew I had to hold on to the football and run hard tonight with the rain making it hard to throw," Peterson said. "The offensive line did a great job giving me holes to run thorough. Now we've got to practice hard and get ready for Tennessee High."
  Jeffers attempted only nine passes, completing four for 58 yards. Nave, Kennedy, Bowers and Bishop each had catches for the Cyclones.
  Nave gave Cyclone coaches credit for some great preparation.
  "We worked hard on their scheme all week," he said. "We pretty much knew what East was going to try whether Eads played or not."
  Nidiffer carried 18 times for 89 yards to lead East, while Hicks found the going tough, completing only 4 of 18 passes with one interception. The defensive backfield of Levi Hooten, Jake Berkley, Bishop, Peters, Preston Smith and company covered Patriot receivers like maple syrup poured over hot pancakes.
  East closed out it best-ever football season, finishing 10-2 under second-year head coach Ralph Nelson.
  "These kids have forever changed the way people look at East football," stated Nelson. "Our kids were determined to make a difference not only on the football field but also in the community. We fought hard all year and tried to do it with class and character. If you don't learn lessons from football, it's not worth playing."
  When ask how it felt advancing to the elite eight after so much adversity early in the season, Pless was quick to give praise to his players and assistant coaches.
  "I think it speaks volumes about our kids and assistant coaches," he said. "That's the two things that stand out in my mind. They just refuse to give in, they refuse to believe they couldn't do it, and I couldn't be more prouder of them."
  "Our crowd was a big factor, and very focal tonight which means so much to our kids," added Pless. "I know we'll need that kind of support next week at Tennessee High."
  Gametime will be 7 p.m. next Friday night inside the Stone Castle.