Cyclones open 2023 BlueCross Bowl Football Championships at home versus Knox Carter

Published 8:35 am Wednesday, November 1, 2023

STAR CORRESPONDENT

The Elizabethton Cyclones are back in familiar territory as the Cyclones open up their charge toward the Class 4-A BlueCross Bowl Football Championship Friday night at Citizens Bank Stadium at 7 pm when the Knox Carter Hornets from Strawberry Plains come calling for the first round of the playoffs.

Winning the game means one more week of play while a loss brings a close to the 2023 season for one of the two teams.

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Elizabethton will be looking to shake off a disappointing loss in their final regular season game of the season last week against Greeneville that put the Cyclones in the number-two slot for Region 1-4A while the Hornets finished in third place in Region 2 4-A behind Anderson Co. and Knox Gibbs and just ahead of Knox Fulton.

“We don’t have a choice,” said Cyclone head coach Shawn Witten about his team needing to get back on track Friday night. “We have to bounce back because right now we are in a one-game season. We have been down this road before and we understand that it’s now a one-game season.”

The Cyclones were their own worst enemy against Greeneville in making too many mistakes to win the game Witten said and the head coach in his 17th season realizes and understands that in a game such as Friday’s game against Carter that mistakes must be eliminated or one could be looking up on the end of the game with a loss.

“We have to do whatever it takes in all three phases of the football game,” Witten said. “We were tied at 13-13 against Greeneville going into the fourth quarter and we have to learn to finish better which means playing and finishing all four quarters of football.”

The good news for Cyclone fans is that this team has been experienced in the situation that they are in as three times since 2017 the team finds itself in the same scenario they are currently facing.

“This is the same path that we have taken in 4-A since 2017,” Witten said. “We have an experienced football team and we just have to do a good job to survive and advance. We have to get back in sync offensively and do a better job of taking care of the football.”

Meanwhile, the Hornets would love nothing more than to put their stingers deep into the Cyclones to pull of the road upset.

The team is a pass-happy team according to Witten as junior Isaiah Monday has completed 96-of–144 pass attempts for 1,310 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season while being picked off only five times during the season. Freshman Brody Sparks has accounted for 57-of-92 passing attempts covering 613 yards.

On the ground, the Hornets were led by Jody Scruggs who had 92 carries for 634 yards. Spencer Russell was the second leading rusher with 57 carries for 456 yards. The two backs accounted for 15 touchdowns on the season.

Russell was also the leading receiver hauling in 50 catches for 571 yards while Scruggs also figured into the passing game catching 47 passes covering 488 yards.  Scruggs had 17 touchdowns on the year while Russell added 12.

The Cyclones rely on sophomore signal called Rhett Slagle who has hit 92-of-136 during regular season for 1,410 yards and 18 touchdowns. Three receivers have been Slagle’s main target as junior Jeriah Griffin leads the way with 39 catches for 523 yards while senior Luke Whaley has caught 20 passes for 405 yards. Senior Eli Blevins who missed Greeneville’s game with a head injury has accounted for 21 catches for 356 yards. Griffin has eight touchdowns while Whaley (5) and Blevins (4) follow.

Elizabethton’s ground game has been led by seniors Zeth Mullins, Kaleb Holzer, and Cam Baker. Mullins leads the way with 91 carries covering 701 yards and 11 touchdowns. Holzer has added 73 carries for 386 yards and four scores while Baker has 10 carries for 189 yards and three touchdowns.

Special teams have also been huge for the Cyclones as freshman Will Bowers has connected on 39-of-41 point-after attempts and is perfect on field goals hitting 4-of-4 with a long of 42 yards on the season.

Witten knows that the Hornets will be willing to do whatever it takes to win the game.

“They are a non-conventional football team that likes to spread the football around and use a lot of screens,” said Witten. “We are going to see a lot of formations that we don’t normally see which will be 180 degrees from this past Friday’s game. We just have to be able to regroup offensively.”

Kickoff for all playoff games is 7 pm. Tickets are $8 and fans can go to https://gofan.co/event/1197167?schoolId=TN8188 to purchase tickets for Friday’s game.