Going Grizzlie hunting… Cyclones packing gear for a long road trip to Grainger County
BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR SPORTS EDITOR
The Elizabethton Cyclones feel blessed that they are entering this week with their 18-game win streak intact after a brutal battle with the Daniel Boone Trailblazers last week that saw the game come down to a final minute block of a potential game-winning field goal by Parker Hughes that preserved the 23-21 victory.
Missing three key ingredients in their offensive line in Wes Erwin, Owen Slagle, and Colby Garland due to safety protocol, their replacements in Sam Bowers, Jacob Whitaker, and Dakota Christian did a great job in providing running lanes for quarterback Bryson Rollins and enough time for Rollins to find Hughes on a couple of scoring passes.
Kudos have to also be given to the defense that settled during the half and allowed zero points to Boone in the second half led by Trenton Taylor, Drew Turner, Brad Cannon, Cade Russell, Deuce Morton, and a host of other contributors.
This week, the Cyclones will take the longest road trip to date for a region game against Grainger County, a team that comes into the contest hungry for an upset win over the Cyclones but sporting only a 2-2 record in 2020 with wins over Cumberland Gap (44-14) and Scott (24-0) and losses to Pigeon Forge (19-12) and Sullivan South (26-8).
Making the game even a lot more different will be the lack of support from the ‘Betsy Band and the EHS cheerleaders who will be forced to stay behind due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Also missing will be a large host of fans as parents were only allowed four tickets per player for the game with no extra tickets allocated.
It’s just another hurdle along the route the Cyclones are maneuvering on their march to defending their 2019 Class 4A State Championship. Adversity seems to be something that this team feeds off of as they continue to find ways to win.
“Every game is critical you know,” said Cyclones head coach Shawn Witten. “Just getting to feel more comfortable and a big-time situation a week ago. It was a very physical game, an emotional game.
“I think that the program took major strides – the environment, the intensity, a 48-minute game playing all the way to the end. Our effort was great and our kids were hustling and busting their tails.
“We have got to keep it going,” Witten continued. “It was a great game last week – it was a thriller. We kept calm in the locker room at halftime. It was a defining week for us to be able to go over to Boone and play that type of game and face some adversity.
“There was a lot of great stuff on film with guys playing hard and executing. We had zero negative offensive plays and had a 95-yard offensive opening drive.
“We executed the two-minute drill to kick a field goal and cut it to 21-17 right before the half was a great momentum boost. Our defense really showed it is a top-notch defense after three games.”
Witten had nothing but praise for the work that his team did last week despite a somewhat noticeable lack of energy during pregame warmups that led to a very challenging first half.
The coach in his 14th year went on to say, “Players win football games. We made enough plays – we made four stops in the fourth quarter. We had enough chances to really put it away and didn’t.
“It was a great high school football game and we are excited to get back on it this week, another game and another week, and get ourselves back going.”
Going on a long bus ride like the Cyclones face will be daunting enough especially with the fact that the team will have to be socially distanced on the bus ride down meaning the use of at least three to four buses just to make the road trip.
The Cyclones will have to not focus so much on the trip but what their plans are once they step foot off the bus in Rutledge looking to reaffirm to teams in Class 4A across the state that this group means business in 2020.
“Any time you get a long trip, you want to take a business-type approach and make it a playoff atmosphere an hour and a half down the road to get yourself mentally prepared,” Witten added.
“You know you want to see us bounce back and do the things that we are capable of doing with lots of energy. Execute and work the basics. We are obviously getting three offensive linemen back and get them back in a groove.
“We want to get Nate (Stephens) going, L.A. (LaDarian Avery) going, and Cade Russell going in the running game. We allowed Bryson to carry a lot of the load on Friday against Boone to kind of counter them a little bit. We have got to get going in a flow offensively and on the line.”
The game will kick off at 7:30 pm and is available on the NFHS streaming channel as well as on the Tom Taylor Sports Show.