Cyclones prepare to battle Chargers in playoffs Friday night

Published 5:09 pm Thursday, November 3, 2016


Like taking an eraser to a chalkboard and wiping it clean, so begins a new season for local high school football teams Friday night as the first round of the TSSAA High School Football Championships kick off.
The Cyclones of Elizabethton find themselves back in familiar waters as by virtue of winning the Region 1-3A crown; the Cyclones have earned the first two games inside the friendly confines of Citizen Bank Stadium.
Not to put the cart before the horse, the Cyclones must first be able to handle the first obstacle in their march to Cookeville, and that comes in the form of the McMinn Central Chargers from the Englewood area just below Athens.
It’s a team that Elizabethton hasn’t faced before and a change of scenery from having to opening with Scott—a team that whipped the Chargers last week 49-13.
“It’s pretty neat to play a team you haven’t played before and a team down in the state,” stated Cyclone head coach Shawn Witten. “They didn’t have a big game last week as they kind of got blown out of the water.
“They have a real big running back—Jackson Long (6’0, 225). He had 41 carries against Chattanooga Notre Dame and 37 carries against CAK,” continued Witten. “They have really come on strong as of late. They are really a power team, a physical team that has a big line.
“They use him in all kinds of different sets. He is the feature—the guy you have to stop. They’ve not been great on defense as they have given up a lot of points as people have been able to score on them pretty quick. The kid they have at running back is a difference maker.”
The Cyclones (9-1) have had a fairly clear path to this point in the season. However, last week may have presented the Cyclones their first real test of adversity all year as sophomore quarterback Carter Everett’s season came to an abrupt end with a shoulder injury.
Everett had accounted for over 1,500 passing yards and 20 touchdowns throwing and had a solid season running the football as well.
Now, the Cyclones hope to pull off another great Houdini as they have someone who has created magic all season long in sophomore Corey Russell (5’11, 165) who will step in to take over the reins as the signal caller.
“There is no way to replace what Carter brings to our offense, and the biggest thing is taken command,” said Witten about the loss of his quarterback. “Corey is a guy that can handle it. He’s up to the task. The thing is that we don’t want to put so much pressure on Corey that he feels like he has to do everything.
“And, we don’t want to put pressure on the guys who have to replace Corey at running back. The biggest thing is just getting into a flow and keeping things simple,” Witten added. “Our offense is built for anybody really. You just have to adjust the strengths to him.”
Witten went on to say that if there is one drawback, it is the ability to see clearly down the field.
“The size at quarterback and being able to see downfield is the biggest thing,” Witten stated. “It becomes a little more of a difficult task for Corey, but I think we have to do some different things in our pass protection that will open up lanes for him.
“The ability to make plays with his feet and the ability to extend plays—there’s a little bit of adjustment there. At this point and time in the playoffs, you have to prepare and let it all hang out to win.”
When recapping last week’s contest with Northview, Witten was particularly happy with the play from his defense. He is hoping for an encore performance this week.
“It was good to see even though we got a couple of pass interference calls on defense, we were in great position and got our hands on the ball at times while putting pressure on the quarterback,” Witten said. “Talk about rising to the occasion, the guys that stepped up to replace Johnny Ray (Woodby) and Cujo (Cameron Coleman) gave just a tremendous effort.
“We have seniors back in our secondary and Evan Carter, a freshman, came up with a big interception and that’s going to be critical,” Witten continued. “We have worked for these particular things all year long and now is when you want to see it pay off. The playoffs are a new season, and you got to expect anything, and we have got to be really ready to go.
“The one thing that I am most proud of is that we raised our level of play last week and it was probably the best half of football we have played all season. We played with passion, energy, and emotion and it all comes back to senior leadership and what kind of legacy do they want to leave behind. We know where we want to be and the question is just how are we going to get there.”
Witten was asked about how the cold temperatures will affect his team as Friday night will be only the second chilly Friday night the Cyclones have had to play in all season.
“That’s part of being in the playoffs and part of having home-field advantage—we need great support Friday night from our fans,” said Witten with a grin. “We are fortunate enough to have a couple of playoff games at home. This is football weather, and it is an exciting time.
“The kids have earned the right to have a great crowd there to support them. Our kids are going to play extremely hard. We have had a couple of tough first game playoffs with Scott County, but we are built for this.
“This is kind of our year to do something with our size and as good as our defense is as we are,” continued Witten. “Corey is not called the Magician for nothing because he can make some amazing things happen. We are well equipped and put together. Coach Ogg has done a good job putting the defense together, and the other coaches have worked extremely hard to get these guys ready.”
The contest is slated for a 7 pm kickoff.

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