Cyclones working to avoid Bees sting

Published 10:57 pm Tuesday, November 23, 2021

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There is a lot of buzz going on in Elizabethton this week as the Cyclones will be seeking a third straight return to the TSSAA BlueCross Bowl for Class 4-A next weekend in Chattanooga to chase a three-peat and defend their state title.

To do so, the Cyclones are preparing for another team that they haven’t faced in the Upperman Bee’s who will be looking to swarm Citizens Bank Stadium in hopes of ending the Cyclones reign.

The Cyclones will be coming in riding high after playing arguably one of the best high school football games in quite some time in defeating the Greeneville Greene Devils 13-7. The Devils had been the top-ranked team in Tennessee since beating Elizabethton in week two.

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It was a most unusual season for the Cyclones leading to this stage but one that was anticipated to be filled with twists and turns along the way.

“I think our schedule at the start of the season was just different. It was just frustration in trying to get that 10th game and having so many gaps in the schedule and then playing so many uncommon opponents,” said Cyclone head coach Shawn Witten.

“You put different people in your conference like Volunteer, Seymour, and Rhea County and obviously playing Greeneville early and Science Hill at ETSU. There were just a lot of things that you had to prepare for. And on top of that, we just graduated so much. We knew the expectations in 2020 and obviously, there were high expectations this year and tradition.

“Every team has got to try and find their own identity and find their place. It’s a process in getting the kids to believe in it. It just shows to this point how hard it is to win each and every week.”

After playing one of their most complete games of the season, looking back Witten wondered if his players always get the message that the coaches are preaching for the week.

Witten is convinced they did last week and hopes for the same if not better this week.

“A lot of times as a coach there are weeks as a coach that there is a struggle because you don’t know whether the kids are listening to your message or messages and they are not really getting it,” Witten said. “Just getting every player and every position unit to understand their role and their importance to the team.

“Friday was a prime example of them taking a game plan and truly executing it. Coach (Jeff) Pierce said it best. It wasn’t about 15 yard runs or 20 yard runs. Our message last Monday was we were fighting for five. We had to control the football, limit the big plays, and we needed first downs. There was no way we could get in a shootout or allow them to throw the ball deep and over our heads.

“It was truly a credit to the kids because you can put a plan together but you have to go out there and execute it and our guys did that. Our guys played as a team and played as a unit. We had some guys step up and make plays for us. It was awesome to see the guys bounce back. It wasn’t about revenge or redemption – it was about finding a way to win.”

In evaluating this week’s competition, Witten said that the Bees are about a 80-20 run-oriented team. But like the other teams that are left standing, every team has to be good to get to this point in the season.

“Upperman is a good football team,” Witten said. “They are 12-1 and they have run through their schedule with a big win last week against Red Bank but they got good players and good size. I would say they are long and not so much big. They are tall and have some length.

“They have a really good quarterback and two good running backs. They play an athletic style of football with five linebackers on the field and three defensive lineman. They are well-coached and have done a good job of getting to this point. I think the situation is really reversed this week. They are the underdogs and have nothing to lose and they are going to come in and give themselves an opportunity.

“It’s the same preparation. It has to be as good this week as it was last week. We need two more performances like last week. Anything less will not get the job done.”

The kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Citizens Bank Stadium.