Fight for five… Physical game to highlight Round 3 Greene Devil, Cyclone showdown
BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR SPORTS EDITOR
The message that Cyclone head coach Shawn Witten gave to his team’s offensive unit on Monday afternoon was clear and concise – every time you touch the ball you need to fight for five.
What Witten was trying to elaborate on was the importance of driving the football hard for five yards every time they touch the football because this game was going to be another physical showdown between two teams who have become accustomed to some knockdown and drag-out football contests.
The second thing that the 14th year head coach wanted to emphasize to his team was not to let the first meeting’s final outcome, a 44-10 Cyclone win, offset how close the game truly was.
“The first thing we try to let our guys know is the score is not the indication of how close that game was the first time. It’s a new game and a new challenge,” Witten said after reviewing some game film.
“Greeneville has been a young team with the emergence of quarterback (Brady) Quillen kind of taking over. He had 28 pass attempts in the game last week against Anderson County and we know they are extremely dangerous with (Mason) Gudger. At any time he touches it, he can really go the distance.”
The Cyclones look to keep their momentum going against a Greeneville team that for the longest time was the hunted and not the hunter. Elizabethton has taken the last three matchups against the Greene Devils – something that hasn’t set very well with the green and white-clad Devils.
However, since going all the way last season and winning the Class 4A State Championship in a 15-win season and following that up with a 12-0 record to date in 2020, the Cyclones are enjoying the sweet taste that has come with each win and aren’t ready to let that feeling go anytime soon.
This game will not be any different from the last several contests between the two teams.
“The first thing that comes to my mind when preparing for Greeneville is the Greeneville Way. It is an extremely physical football game and they make you work for everything you are going to get. It’s going to be a great game and we are just fortunate to be at home for the second time in consecutive years in round three,” Witten stated.
The road for Greeneville wasn’t easy last week but thanks to an Anderson County team that made uncharacteristic penalties, failed to convert on two would-be scoring passes, and allowed Greeneville to hang in the contest until the second half where they scored the game-winning touchdown with 28 seconds left to play, the Greene Devils lived another day.
It was almost an identical start for the Cyclones who took some time getting their game legs under them last week.
“That’s a little bit like us when we started the game Friday night against East Hamilton,” Witten noted. “Just costly turnovers and we had some penalties that knocked us out of scoring position and put us behind the chains.
“That is kind of uncharacteristic of ourselves all season but I am glad the way that our guys got to experience that. We didn’t crumble, we kind of gathered ourselves and responded.
“This team is really tough and it’s going to be a great game and it’s exciting to be here. The bigger the game the next round, the more the discipline, the fundamentals, the techniques, the training, and the small things that will matter the most.”
In the first meeting at Greeneville this year, the Cyclones turned a 16-10 first-half lead into a runaway in the second half to take the 34 point win – a contest that saw the Cyclones put up 230 passing yards and 214 rushing yards for 444 yards of offense to the Greene Devils 180.
Another point that Witten encouraged his team on Monday was the importance of taking advantage of the gaping holes while they are open and to explode and take advantage of those to keep the chains moving.
“We talked about the holes,” Witten added. “The holes are big but they close fast in a game like Greeneville. We have been using the motto ‘Fight for Five’ – every time we touch the ball you got to fight for five yards.
“They make you earn everything you are going to get.”
With Greeneville and Anderson County going at it tooth and nail last week, Witten was asked if he felt with a physical game that the Greene Devils had to play last week if that would be an advantage for this week much like last season when Gudger came into the game banged up after last season’s contest on the road at Anderson County which seemed to slow him down in the playoff contest at Elizabethton.
“I think that it’s tough to respond but everybody knows when you get to round three everybody is in that same boat,” stated Witten. “There is a lot of wear and tear – it’s been a long season, and there has been a lot of preparation to get to this point and everybody is in the same boat where you have got some bangs and bruises and you just have to suck it up.
“A 48-minute game is what it is going to be. It’s not about winning the first quarter or second quarter, it’s about playing that complete game.
“Mentally and physically it’s exhausting,” Witten continued. “The team that can sell out and the team that can execute when you get tired and fatigued as both teams have a handful of guys that make a lot of the plays. The team that can bend but don’t break mentality will come out on top.
“Everybody talks about these games – the Super Bowls, best teams like Alabama and Nick Saban, Patriots and Bill Belichick – the talk about mental toughness and it really comes down to marginal error and a few inches to decide who is going home and who is going to advance.”
The kickoff is slated for 7 pm Friday night at Citizens Bank Stadium and if fans are interested in tickets, you can go to the GoFan page and look for available tickets which should be available by Wednesday for the Cyclones contest.
The winner of Friday’s game will advance to next Friday night’s contest against the winner of the Tullahoma and Nolensville game. That contest will be on the road.