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Working out the kinks… Cyclones spend week correcting issues from Science Hill contest

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR SPORTS EDITOR 
While many teams would be satisfied with beating a good Science Hill football team by 22 points, the Elizabethton Cyclones aren’t just any team and they realize that if they are to make another deep run toward the state championship that they will have to be even better than last season if that’s possible.
After reviewing game film, head coach Shawn Witten said there were definitely things that his team needed to work on this week during practice most specifically the offensive line which although they are among the best in the state, the ‘Topper defense were up to the challenge and exposed them on a couple of occasions.
“There are a lot of areas to improve and a lot of areas to focus on but any time you can get a win over that football team under these conditions you will take it,” said Witten. “There are a lot of things that you can point to and a lot of reasons why some areas didn’t look as good as others. We are not about making excuses but look forward and move on.
“The guys have worked really hard and found a way to win the game. There were a lot of bright spots. Defensively, we were green going into the game and we played really well forcing four turnovers and that’s a plus.
“I thought we won the kicking game,” Witten continued. “Our kickers Sean Smithdeal, Conner Blevins, Bryson (Rollins) and Braden Holly did an outstanding job kicking.
“We are always looking at a lot of things but three years in a row, at home with a lot of pressure and expectations – we did a pretty good job handling all of it for the most part.”
With the Sullivan East Patriots coming to Citizens Bank Stadium on Friday night, it marks the first region game of the season for the Cyclones and one that Witten and his team cannot overlook.
After playing the ‘Toppers, there is always the potential for a let down as teams often play to their competition and for Elizabethton and Witten, that is something they have to guard as the Cyclones have now gone from the hunter to the hunted.
‘That’s one of the biggest things that we don’t want to see is a drop off in our play,” Witten stated. “You know to play to the level of competition. We are at home again and this time last year we were open now we are ready to get back on the field. We have a lot of areas to improve.
“It’s all exciting as its the first conference game and we didn’t do really well so next Friday can’t come fast enough.
“Offensively, we didn’t run the football really well. We threw it really great and Bryson made some plays with his feet. We have to do a better job of blocking and getting the guys prepared.
“Overall, it was a great effort and great energy,” Witten commented. “We came ready to play and our guys were focused. Some areas didn’t work out the way we wanted it to or expected. But there were a lot of positives.
“Drew Turner was out there for the first time from Happy Valley. We had Cameron Smith out there for the first time who missed all year last year. Grayson Hatfield missed all year last year. Blake Stewart had a great game in his first game in a year after an injury.”
Witten was happy with the play of his running backs who did the little things to help the Cyclones win even though their yardage wasn’t representative of the work they actually did.
“Our running backs did a good job of running the football and running hard – they didn’t get a lot of opportunities,” Witten stated. “I also thought that the running backs did a great job of pass protection. I thought Nate (Stephens) did a good job of picking up on some blitzes and LA (LaDarian Avery) did as well.”
One of the areas that the Cyclones get little notoriety with all the weapons they have on the offensive side of the ball and that is the play of the defense.
From the line play lead by Trenton Taylor to the defensive backs and secondary, the defense continued to excel allowing only eight points to a good ‘Topper offense.
“I thought that one of the bright sides defensively for us was we had nine pass breakups against Science Hill and we also had three interceptions. I think (Jaxon) Diamond was 20-of-36 for 182 yards and I thought for the most part we did a great job of getting in those windows and getting our hands on the ball,” Witten noted.
“Cade Russell had a fumble recovery and he had two interceptions and I thought he could have two more. Parker had an interception and I thought he could have had another one. It’s great to see the improvement from one year to the next.
“Sometimes you can come out early and struggle against the pass teams and it’s hard to get it down but it was great to see us shine defensively.
We kept them out of the end zone.
“We did a good job of winning the kicking game and flipping the field. We had some explosive plays and I just think overall that we struggled a little with our line play but obviously they are not always going to get it like they normally have had.
“Those guys are going to get humbled a little bit but realize that they are going to get everyone’s best shot.”
One of the things that was easily noticeable was the absence of a full stadium and all the excitement that comes along with a Cyclone and ‘Topper game from both sides.
“There was something missing. It was a little quiet and you just didn’t feel that energy or that electricity,” Witten said. “I think everybody was cautious and didn’t want to cause anything.
“But I thought from pre-game on that both teams operated well and the officials called a great game. I thought that you could still feel the community in the air.
“Elizabethton High School and our football team have a lot of momentum and people are excited in our community. I think that even though people didn’t get to our game Friday a lot of people tuned in with the radio broadcasting it and live streaming it with Tom Taylor.
“WCYB did a great job of telecasting it,” Witten continued.”I know my brother Jason streamed it out in Las Vegas.  A lot of people are tuning into the Cyclones – it’s just an exciting time.”
The game will be offered on the NHFS stream via an annual membership of $69.99 that includes all EHS fall athletics.
Kickoff is slated for 7:30 pm.