Cyclones looking to break ‘Toppers strangle hold

Published 11:15 am Friday, August 26, 2016


The Elizabethton Cyclones have spent seven long, toiling weeks being drained of blood, sweat, and tears to get prepared for another high school football season, and it will all start to culminate on Friday night under the lights of Citizens Bank Stadium with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

Science Hill comes calling to renew a rivalry that has only produced two wins in the last 15 years for the Cyclones—a streak that Elizabethton is looking to turn in the other direction starting Friday night.

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“For us, we ought to be really fired up to play this game and especially since we did not play week one and having seven weeks to prepare for Johnson City—there’s just so much emotion in the rivalry and opening here at home,” said Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten (132-71) who begins his 10th season at the helm of his alma mater.

“Having lost only 10 seniors a year ago, we should just really be fired up and play with a lot of emotion and passion.”

In Science Hill, the Cyclones will continue to see pretty much the same machine that head coach Stacy Carter is known for putting out and that is a quarterback that can hurt you with the run or the pass and speed all over the field.

With that combination, there is always the possibility of high-scoring games resulting from the big-play offense that Carter likes to incorporate.

“Even when Stacy (Carter) was at South, it’s been a quarterback-driven offense, and it’s been a big-play offense,” added Witten. “I think last year in seven series, we forced three missed field goals, a bad punt, and we had three interceptions.

“You take those seven possessions right there and that’s a lot of chances and opportunities to hang in there.”

“I think also the big-play capability—we have to make them line up and sustain the drives,” continued Witten. “We can’t give up the big score quickly and have to make them work it down the field.”

If Witten has anything to do with it, it will be his offensive unit that will bring the shock and awe to the contest.

The Cyclones have a lot of returning experience and have the play makers to turn in some big plays and it starts in the backfield.

Two experienced quarterbacks return in sophomores Carter Everett (6’6, 215) and Corey Russell (5’11, 165). Each quarterback brings something different to the table for the Cyclones, and Witten will go with the one he thinks will get the job done against the opposition.

Also, senior running backs Jacob Turner (6’0, 185) and Logan Norman (5’11, 180) will bring a bevy of experience to the Cyclone backfield.

When it comes to throwing the football, the quarterbacks will have some nice targets to connect with in seniors Conner Johnson (6’2, 180) and Alex Norwood (6’5, 220). Also in the mix will be sophomore tight end Garrett Jennings (6’6, 260).

Science Hill also comes in with a huge amount of talent and speed in the backfield. With the departure of Justin Bedard, junior QB Jaylan Adams (5’8, 145) is ready to step into the driver’s seat.

Adams is the son of ‘Topper Hall of Famer Gary “Shorty” Adams and will be wearing the famous No. 11 worn by ‘Topper great Steve Spurrier.

Senior running back King Russell (5’10, 212) returns and will be a tough back to stop. Also, Carter will be putting the ball in the belly of Colby Martin (5’10, 189) when needed.

Witten pointed out that keeping the big-play capabilities of Adams and Russell at bay will be a focal point of the Cyclone defense.

“King Russell returns and he’s a big running back and obviously Adams and the things he can do,” added Witten. “So hopefully the things they are going to do they are going to need Russell in the backfield to help them, and they made need a tight end in the game to help them, so we are hoping some sets we are going to see can play into our advantage in ways that may not have in the past.

“The second level people have got to really finish off the tackle,” Witten continued. “Linebacker play is going to be critical. We cannot allow that big play, we have to play good and play our pass responsibilities first and then redirect on the run.

“That’s where it gets so tough is where they have so much speed in the backfield that when that football gets on the edge it makes you want to get downhill and all of a sudden they get a little play action and hit you deep.”

Witten was asked if getting a win this season to end the string of losses has been on the minds of his players and coaches.

“As a coach and a team, you are never into moral victories, but I think it’s important to play well,” stated Witten. “I think it’s important when you can go out and perform well—not make the mental errors and mistakes and not turn the ball over and have penalties.

“It’s more about knowing this is the top of our schedule, this is the elite team. You use this team later on in the playoffs and the season knowing what the talent level and the depth is to emphasis that we are not going to be playing anybody who is going to be any better.

“Our guys have worked extremely hard and we know the challenges that rise of course, but I think other than one game two years ago, we have got the game into the fourth quarter and to the last possession and have found a way to hang in there year in and year out, that’s what the Cyclone teams do.”

Witten pointed out that a win over Science Hill would go a long way in providing a spring board into the rest of the season.

“The confidence booster is the biggest thing—this is probably the only game of the other nine games on the schedule where we will be the underdog,” Witten said. “We are at home and we have a lot of returning experience. We also had to play a lot of young kids last year as well. This is a good challenge for us right off the bat and we want to play well and when we do get down we have to rise back.”