Railroad Rumble Part 3… Cyclones, Hilltoppers renew annual rivalry Friday in Johnson City

Published 10:53 am Tuesday, August 15, 2023

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It’s the game that everyone has marked on their calendar even before a new season rolls around as the Elizabethton Cyclones and Science Hill Hilltoppers meet once again in Johnson City with kickoff slated for 7 pm on Friday evening on Steve Spurrier Field inside Kermit-Tipton Stadium for the third annual Railroad Rumble.
The specially named series is knotted at one game apiece with the Cyclones winning at ETSU in 2021 and the ‘Toppers taking last year’s contest in Elizabethton.
“It’s just another typical Science Hill and Elizabethton matchup,” said Cyclone head coach Shawn Witten. “We are looking forward to it with our 19 seniors who bring strong leadership to our team. We have a big team with a lot of guys who will be touching the football for us this season. I think that defense will be big early on and we are going to have to be able to score points to get out of the gate quickly.”
The Cyclones will be facing a massive offensive front line of the Hilltoppers, who Witten believes will try to use their size on his defensive front and try to wear the unit down.
“They have a really big offensive line and talented skill players,” Witten said. “Their quarterback is back for another year and has 13 games under his belt. What they did last year was really simple and with their offensive line we expect them to run the football and try to wear us down from that perspective.”
Meanwhile, the Cyclones will be countering with two sophomore quarterbacks in Rhett Slagle and Justin Whitehead. Slagle was injured last year and had very little time in game experience but led TA Dugger to a middle school championship before arriving at Elizabethton High. Whitehead saw significant snaps running the Cyclone junior varsity squad last season, with both quarterbacks bringing something different to the table, Witten said.
Defensively, the Cyclones will be led by Division 1 prospect Mason Ball from the defensive end slot along with Eli Guess, Ben Adams, Landon Hughes, and Andrew Blevins joining along the front line to offset the offensive threat from the ‘Toppers.
Witten’s message to his team leading up to the contest is keeping the game simple and trying not to overcomplicate it.
“We have to be creative offensively and try and design a few plays to get going,” Witten said. “We have two young quarterbacks, so we want to give them easy throws and get our running game going. We just need to keep it simple and try to make some early plays. We have good people who can make plays for us to create scoring opportunities.”

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