2020 BlueCross Bowl Class 4A Championship Making the Tomcats purr… Cyclones collect second consecutive state title with win over Haywood
BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR SPORTS EDITOR
COOKEVILLE – When the Elizabethton Cyclones made the trip to the 2019 BlueCross Bowl Class 4A Championship, it was treading on unfamiliar turf but the Cyclones took care of business with a win over Springfield.
Fast forward one year and the Cyclones made their second trip to Tucker Stadium on the campus of Tennessee Tech and it was like being right at home as Elizabethton staked themselves to a quick 21-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back in taming the Haywood Tomcats 41-14 to make it back-to-back state championships.
When the Cyclones took the game for pre-game warmups, there was an air of confidence about each player and coach and that showed as they went right to work in the first quarter.
Barely 1:11 had elapsed off the clock before Mr. Football candidate Parker Hughes took a handoff from another Mr. Football candidate in quarterback Bryson Rollins and Hughes was off to the races for a thrilling 53-yard scoring scamper to cap off a five-play, 80-yard opening drive for Elizabethton.
Sean Smithdeal’s strike on the extra point was right down the middle and the Cyclones led 7-0.
While the spotlight all season has been on Hughes and Rollins, another player stroked his name into Cyclone folklore on Saturday as the young man by the name of Jake, who some commonly refer to as ‘The Snake”, Roberts quickly made his presence known on the ensuing Cyclone possession.
With the Tomcat defender eyes on Hughes, Rollins went to the other side of the field and found Roberts on a 70-yard bomb that put the Cyclones up 14-0 on Smithdeal’s PAT with 8:33 still showing on the first-quarter clock.
The Cyclones picked up their third score of the quarter with 2:14 on the clock when Rollins finished off a 10-play, 46-yard drive that took 4:39 off the clock as he carried the ball over the goal line from two yards out.
Smithdeal continued his stellar work on the season by converting the point-after and the Cyclones took a 21-0 lead at the end of the first quarter much to the delight of the Cyclone Nation fans who made the trip with their cowbells and face masks.
The Tomcats finally got their offense rolling in the second quarter on the ground as they went on a 14-play, 84-yard drive that took 5:37 off the clock.
Kylan Newberry scored when he bolted into the end zone from eight yards out. Reid Russell booted the PAT and the scoreboard was updated to 21-7.
The Cyclones responded just before the halftime break as it was the Rollins to Hughes connection from 15-yards out with 10 seconds showing on the clock.
Elizabethton covered 44 yards and took nine plays to put the ball in the end zone while eating 2:02 off the game clock.
Smithdeal remained perfect on PAT’s as Elizabethton enjoyed a 28-7 advantage at the intermission.
The Tomcats received the second-half kickoff and appeared poised to put another score on the board but it was the ‘The Snake’ who was in the right place at the right time as Roberts picked up a Tomcat fumble at the Cyclone 18-yard line and took it the distance for an 82-yard score.
Robert’s 82-yard score set a new state championship record with the previous record being held by Jamahan Garner in 1996 in the Tyner and Melrose contest.
Smithdeal’s PAT once again was true and the Cyclones were cruising 35-7.
Roberts sealed the 2020 Bluecross Bowl Class 4A Player of the Game on the Tomcats following possession when he read the Haywood quarterback’s eyes, made a break on a pass, and took a pick-six 21 yards to the house.
A bad snap forced Smithdeal’s kick to be blocked but the writing was already on the wall for the kids from Haywood as the Cyclones for all intents and purposes had put the proverbial nail in the coffin with the score as the scoreboard read 41-7 with 4:41 left in the third quarter.
The Tomcats did add a second score to their side of the Tucker Stadium scoreboard when J. Taylor scored on a nine-yard rush with a Russell PAT giving the game its final score at 41-14 with 6:47 left to play in the contest.
For the contest, Rollins was 9-of-13 for 172 yards and the two scores. He also rushed 12 times for 18 yards and one score.
Hughes capped off his senior season with eight carries for 66 yards and a score while hauling in five receptions for 75 yards and a score.
Cade Russell led all Cyclone rushers with 14 carries covering 76 yards. Nate Stephens added six carries for 13 yards. Roberts had two catches covering 79 yards and the touchdown while Russell and Braden Holly each had one reception apiece covering nine yards each.
Defensively, Deuce Morton finished his high school career by recording 14 tackles from his linebacker slot including seven solo stops and one tackle for loss.
Hughes and Blake Stewart had 11 tackles each with Hughes collecting an interception and a forced fumble.
Other defensive standouts from a tackling standpoint were Grayson Hatfield (6), LaDarian Avery (5), Trenton Taylor (5), Caleb Johnson (4), Braden Holly (3), Bradley Cannon (3, 2 TFL), Cade Russell (2), Jake Roberts (2, 1 TFL, 2 INT), and one tackle apiece for Peyton Johnson, Kaleb Holzer, Sean Smithdeal, Harrison Lane, and Drew Turner.
The Cyclones drew five penalties for 25 yards while Haywood was whistled nine times for 80 yards.
Haywood’s Newbern was 10-of-16 for 104 yards and three interceptions. Taylor was the leading rusher with 16 carries covering 76 yards and one score.
The Cyclones had 345 yards of total offense to 294 for the Tomcats. Each team recorded 16 first downs in the contest.
With the win, the Cyclones are riding a 30-game win streak with the last loss dating back to 2018.
WHAT THEY SAID
Cyclone Head Coach Shawn Witten
There was a lot of pressure on us and a lot of expectations. We just had one more to finish and our guys wanted this one really bad. We knew we had to come out and explode to try and give us a little bit of a lead and give us some cushion.
It was another week where we took the ball right down the field and scored. The guys just executed. We were ready. I am so proud of our guys. I couldn’t be happier for them.
We didn’t know if we were going to get to defend our title but here we are. The last two weeks have been our best games – we save our best games for the last two weeks.
Today wasn’t about 81 years like last year. It wasn’t about the first state title. It was about our players on the football team finishing the process, coming out here and playing a complete game, and playing a really good team.
We practiced hard and have been prepared and these are the kind of results you get.
Cyclone linebacker Deuce Morton
This group of seniors has been through a lot. We have grown up together and played hard. We have had people come in but we have always been a family.
I wouldn’t want to do it with any other group of guys – they are definitely my brothers and I love them so much.
We went through a lot this year. This group has just stuck together through everything and we have been so tough and it’s a great feeling.
2020 Bluecross Bowl Class 4A MVP Jake Roberts
My role on this team is to come in and make plays wherever that may be – returning punts, kicks, offense, or defense, I just have got to help the team where I can.
They (fumble and interception) were both pretty special being in a state championship game, you just try to enjoy it.
Our work ethic is unmatched. Coach Witten has us in the weight room every day and our practices – our work ethic is just crazy.
It’s amazing at all the fans. Going 80 years without winning a state championship and now we win two in a row is awesome. It’s incredible for this community and for these seniors to get to leave on a game like that.