Elizabethton loses to THS in 4A state quarterfinals

Photo by Danny Davis
THS linebacker Zack Morton rushes after ‘Betsy quarterback Weston Jeffers.

  BRISTOL--They say all good things must come to an end, and thus was the case with the 2004 Cyclone football season Friday night at the Stone Castle. Behind a swarming defense led by Zack Morton, Tennessee High held off Elizabethton 35-18 to advance to the semifinals of the state 4A playoffs next week against Maryville.
  It was a game of two halves as the Vikings built up a 28-3 halftime lead, only to see the Cyclones make a valiant effort to get back into the football game.
  "It's just the trademark of Cyclone football," stated Cyclone head coach Eddie Pless. "Our kids never let down nor did they ever quit. They competed to the last snap."
  The Vikings marched 65 yards in 10 plays to set the tone for the first half. A 30-yard run by Brandon Anderson led to a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Marcus Nidiffer. Nathan Miller added the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 7:02 remaining in the first quarter.
  After a three and out by 'Betsy, the Vikings struck paydirt like the Clampett's did oil. Nidiffer found a streaking Nick Howington for a 67-yard TD bomb, increasing the lead at 14-0 at the 4:49 mark.
   Unable to move the football, Tennessee High took advantage of a 7-yard punt, which led to its third touchdown. After two nice defensive plays by Derek Nave, the Vikings got their third score.
  Maurice Whitten burst up the middle for a 30-yard scoring run and a 21-0 cushion.
  The Cyclone offense continued its woes. For most of the first half, Weston Jeffers found himself lying on his back as the smaller 'Betsy line found the going tough against the much quicker Vikings.
  An interception by Matt Stickley led the another Viking touchdown, as Nidiffer again found Howington, this time for a 31-yard score that upped the margin to 28-0.
  The Cyclones got a huge break when Nave fell on a bad snap punt late in the second quarter. The Cyclones had been held to minus three yards up to this point while giving up nearly 250 yards.
  But the die hard orange and black dug down deep and gave for the remaining game, probably their best 27 minutes of the 2004 season. Brain Freeman nailed a 42-yard field goal at the 1:11 mark to put 'Betsy on the board.
  Elizabethton had another opportunity just before the half, but a fumble on the 5 that seem to lie on the ground for seconds was recovered by Tennessee High.
  'Betsy struck like a rattlesnake to start the third as Ryan Kennedy took a short pass, broke a tackle and sprinted 83 yards to paydirt for touchdown. Jeffers' two point conversion cut the margin at 28-11.
  Unable to move the football on their next possession, the Vikings were aided by a 53-yard punt that pushed Elizabethton back to the 28. Elizabethton continued its comeback bid when a pass interference call appeared to be the break they needed.
  After an 11-yard completion to Ryan Kennedy and another grab by Nathan Bishop, the Cyclones were deep in Viking territory. On the next play, though, a tipped pass resulted in an interception by Tyler Wilson and brought a sigh of relief to the Viking faithful.
  "We were not going to give up and let our coaches down," stated Bishop. "I will always remember that we are one of only four teams in school history to ever get this far."
  To make matters worse, on 'Betsy's next possession Wilson gathered his second INT, leading to a Viking touchdown. Nidiffer hit Morton for a 29-yard TD pass on their first play after the turnover, pushing the advantage at 35-10.
  The never-say-die Cyclones answered the bell with a 65-yard drive that resulted in a score. After a 9-yard completion from Jeffers to Nave, followed by an 11-yard run from James Peterson, the Cyclones added another score.
  J.C. Atkinson made a beautiful move on a pass from Jeffers and raced 16 yards for the touchdown. The Vikings led 35-18 at the 7:07 mark in the fourth quarter.
  'Betsy showed the heart of a lion for the final seven minutes as Tennessee looked to add another score. But after driving 53 yards to the 5, Logan Hyatt recovered a fumble to stop the Vikings for tacking on another score.
  Jeffers threw for 150 yards on 10-of-24, but was picked off three times. The Cyclones managed only five yards rushing on the evening.
  Nave gave a brilliant performance on the evening with 13 solo hits while Berkley and Charles Peters added 10 each on the evening.
  "When I came in as a sophomore I was small, playing behind guys like Vince Redd and Walter Brown," said Nave. "I saw how hard they worked in the weight room and I knew I had to do the same."
  "Elizabethton football has a great tradition and I just thankful to have been a part of it. I will never forget these players nor my coaches."
  "We fought hard and never quit," stated Berkley. "No one gave us a chance at getting this far, but I think we proved a lot of people wrong."
  Nidiffer was 6-for-9 for 164 yards and three touchdowns. The Vikings rushed for 179 yards with Major Canty leading the way with 65 yards on 14 carries. Brandon Anderson added 54 yards on 16 carries.
  "Our kids fought their tails off," Pless said. "The second half gave us something to build on for next season.
  "I was afraid that Sullivan South had awoken a sleeping giant last week. We knew they were a good football team and tonight they proved it. I will never forget these kids and what they brought to this program. It will go down as one of the most memorable moments in my coaching career."
  "These seniors left their mark on Cyclone football for years to come. For Trevor Hyder, Mitchell Blevins and Levi Hooten, it was a ride that will never be forgotten.
  Added Hyder: "It feels good to have played on a team like this and with so many great guys around me."
  "I am most grateful getting to play as a Cyclone," Blevins said. "I am so proud of my teammates, coaches and fans."
  Hooten might have summed it up best.
  "Cyclone football is like nothing else.," he said. "No football program could ever be more special than Elizabethton. I played with some of the best guys you could ever be around. Best of all, I played for some awesome coaches."