Our time will come…Witten sees growth despite starting season 0-3
Published 11:21 am Tuesday, September 13, 2022
Going into the fourth week of football for the Elizabethton Cyclones, many are beginning to grumble about the Cyclones inability to put points on the scoreboard and win games.
Starting 0-3 is something most didn’t imagine seeing for a team that has been to the state playoffs for three consecutive years winning two and claiming runner-up in 2021.
It’s something that makes one wonder whether it was worth winning a state title, much less two, after going over 80 years since winning the first one in the 1940s as now everyone expects the Cyclones to win every game and the coaches to make the right calls every down.
And while there is no one losing more sleep than head coach Shawn Witten and his coaching staff to develop schemes to overcome the nine-quarter scoring drought, this team and its coaches deserve to have the continued support of the Cyclone community and as the old adage goes if one can’t say something positive, don’t say anything at all. After all, these are 15, 16, and 17-year-old kids that coaches hang their hats on to determine whether they are a success or failure – a tough task to ask of anyone.
Fans need to remember that as this week the Cyclones play host to Grainger County at Citizens Bank Stadium in a Region 1 Class 4-A contest with still a lot to play for the Cyclones. Picking up a win over the Grizzlies will go in line with helping the Cyclones fight for a second-place seeding in the playoffs behind Greeneville with still a lot of season to go.
Dropping games to Science Hill (17-7), Greeneville (21-0), and Boone (7-0) has came on the heels of a Cyclone defense that has played lights out considering the stiff competition it has faced holding two higher classified schools to a total of 24 points and conference foe Greeneville to 21.
However, the one glaring difference is an offense that has been improving weekly winning almost every statistical category on offense last week against Boone but unable to break the wall that has stood between the team and the end zone.
Witten has said that the scoring issue was one that he didn’t see coming in the pre-season. If the Cyclones can get the monkey off its back against Grainger, it could lead to an avalanche of scoring going forward as the confidence should skyrocket.
In his 16th season, the coach admits that the philosophy of winning games in the past could require tweaking as the Cyclones have made its hay on a strong run game sprinkled in with a short passing game when needed to open up the opponent’s defense.
“It has a lot to do with me and my philosophy in the way we have been able to win in the last three years in that we have been really good on defense and we have always been good at running the football,” Witten said. “We have won by establishing first downs and keeping the other team on the sidelines and not turning the football over and taking what the defense gives us.
“We have never been a type of gun-slinging mentality if you want to call it that. We have got to try and get the ball to some guys and see what they can do and push the football down the field in some areas. We have to work on our intermediate passing game and find ways to keep our guys fresh from where we are flipping them over from offense to defense. A lot of things have changed from where we are at and where we have been before. Boone was a senior team and it was hard to get young guys out on the field because of what you are going against. It’s tough – it’s a different game mentally and physically.”
As a coach, Witten said that he and his coaching staff can see improvements weekly and feels like that team is progressing in the direction it needs to for the remaining six games of the regular season.
‘Our kids are playing better – they are playing hard. We had a chance of winning the Boone game” said Witten. “The defense is playing spectacular. In a game like that (Boone), our mindset was with the defense playing great, we didn’t want to turn the football over, or cause any problems for our defense. The running backs ran the football better and we blocked tons better. It comes down that we are not giving our defense backup.
“The offense is still a work in progress – we are executing better at times. There were several times in the first half that we were behind the chains with first and 15s. Our cadence was bad and not everyone was on the same track. We thought that if we could get the game into the fourth quarter, we would have a chance to win and did that and obviously we didn’t do that.”
With two more non-conference games (Anderson County and Rhea County), Witten said the importance of those games continues to be for the improvement of the Cyclones as they battle for seeding in the conference.
“In the old days, the non-region games would help you get better for your conference games,” Witten said. “Everybody knows when you get to November anything can happen and we know that from last year. The road is obviously not easy for us – we are not where we want to be but we still have great senior leadership. The guys are working really hard. There is a lot of negativity about our offense right now.
“Nate (Stephens) ran hard, Cade (Russell) is playing his tail off, and Dalton (Mitchell) did a great job on two really great scrambles. We tried to create a spark in there by putting Gib (Maupin) in on the last series. It was what we wanted to push the ball down the field with a burst of energy with a guy coming off the bench that has something to prove and thought it would give us a spark and it did. Boone was solid in the secondary and that made it hard to throw. We just didn’t want to make a mistake and put the defense on a short field. I thought Mason Williams did a good job of punting all game long.”
The Cyclones and Grizzlies kick off at 7:30 p.m. Friday night.