The third week of October… Greeneville and Elizabethton set to butt heads at Burley Stadium
BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR SPORTS EDITOR
It was a disappointing week last week for the Elizabethton Cyclones who saw an opportunity to take the field to continue to work toward the two biggest games of the season on the football calendar get quashed when they lost their homecoming game against Union County who canceled out against the Cyclones.
That scenario could be viewed in two ways as it could have been a blessing in disguise to allow the Cyclones the opportunity to heal up some bumps and bruises or it could be said it could lead to a slow start against a Greeneville team that hammered a South team who was undefeated heading into that contest, 41-7.
Elizabethton Cyclone head coach Shawn Witten was asked that question heading into the third week of October showdown which will be on the road at Burley Stadium in Greeneville slated for a 7:30 pm kickoff Friday night.
“It’s both sides of it. We lost a lot of momentum coming off the William Blount game but any time you can get on the field and just take that next step you know just preparation and going over your assignments is big,” Witten said.
“And on the flip side just the chance to prepare for two weeks, recharge your batteries and know what is at stake for this game.
“The winner of this game decides a lot of things – a home playoff game, a conference championship as well so there are both sides of it,” Witten continued.
“It’s just hard to believe it’s the third week in October. This date is circled every year. There is nothing better than Greeneville week.”
It’s no secret that Greeneville isn’t the same team they were two to three years ago, but Cyclone Nation doesn’t need to be too overconfident as the Greeneville program is almost a mirror image to Elizabethton’s program in the fact that they just plug and play other players into positions that holes are left in.
“It’s just typical Greeneville – very disciplined, very physical, a team that doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and a team where tradition never graduates. They seem like they just plug in those players you know,” Witten stated about what he expects out of the Greene Devils.
“They are a team that you see from an athletic standpoint – very fast on the outside and very strong on the inside. They have lost their leader in their quarterback (due to injury) but they have had three games to this point now with their backup quarterback that does a great job at managing the game and putting the guys in the right position.
” (Mason) Gudger is an extremely fast football player,” Witten continued. “He is a game-breaker. Any time he touches it, he can go the distance.
“We talked to our team last week during the open week that last year our season was decided at home and our destiny, unfortunately, this year is going to be on the road. This week, the next week, and down the road playoff-wise, we are going to have to be able to win on the road to be able to move on.”
Anyone that knows Witten knows how much a competitor he is and doesn’t like to miss out on an opportunity to get on the field and fine-tune his team especially this time of year.
And even though he works his team as hard in practice as he does in a game there are just some things that cannot be simulated like one can in live action.
“Anytime you miss a home game, especially like last Friday night when the weather was great stings,” Witten commented. “We reached out to several teams and there is nothing like preparing for a game and getting out there and making it happen.
“You can simulate that in practice all you want to but you just don’t get after it in practice like you get in a game. You just don’t block and tackle and the physicality in practice that you do in a game – it’s hard to simulate.
“I think there is a reason why you put in all the work for these particular games,” continued Witten. “You start the season off and this is why you do all the work.
“This rivalry goes back to when these kids were in middle school. You compete for the conference championship against Greeneville, the JV games are big against Greeneville, so I am sure these guys are going to be ready.
“A lot of people have counted Greeneville out – they lost two games and are not the same so these kids have a chip on their shoulder,” the Cyclone skipper added. “The situation has been reversed a little bit and people are saying we are the bigger team and we are the more physical team and that we are the team to beat so these guys are going to be ready to play this game.”
There are dangerous weapons that will be on each sideline Friday night.
Witten was asked if there were one thing that stood out to him as the key to the game, he didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“It all comes down to the line of scrimmage play on both sides – the physicality on both sides, the blocks, toughness, moving blocks, getting off blocks, and tackling Gudger.
“The more times he gets and every time he touches the ball he is dangerous. We saw that on film. But is still all comes down to the line of scrimmage play.
“The team that can win the line of scrimmage and the team that can wear you down will come out on top. Also, can you play for four quarters?
Greeneville plays a couple of guys both ways on the line but for us we don’t. We have to be able to sustain that for 40 minutes. Going into Burley Stadium, its a tough place to play.
“Greeneville doesn’t lose much there but this year they have lost twice at home,” said Witten. “The teams that have been able to beat them – Boone and Science Hill just physically got after them quite a bit.
“When Greeneville won this matchup, it was because they were too strong. Last year when we beat them we just wore them down. It’s going to be the same situation this year.”
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