CAK stands between Cyclones, title game

Douglas Fritz • Nov 22, 2012 at 6:43 PM

If it were a military battle, it would be Army versus Air Force.

It's a dividing line that could not have any more contrast.

Christian Academy of Knoxville will fly into Rider Field with an aerial assault that has totaled 5,291 yards. Elizabethton will be hunkered down with a ground game that has racked up a school-record 4,139 yards.

At stake? A trip to Cookeville to play for a Class 3A football state championship.

The Cyclones will meet the Warriors in a TSSAA state semifinal contest tonight. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 o'clock.

“They've definitely got our attention,” said Cyclones' head coach Shawn Witten. “They have a high-octane offense, and it's pretty fascinating to see how effective they are at running their routes. Just the whole passing scheme is pretty impressive.”

Elizabethton is 11-2 on the season, having beaten Johnson County, Gatlinburg-Pittman and Sullivan North in the playoffs by a combined margin of 121-41.

CAK is 12-1 with wins over Loudon, Kingston and Alcoa by a combined score of 117-64.

A tough task awaits Elizabethton's defense as quarterback Charlie High averages 25 completions in 32 attempts for 332 yards and four touchdowns per game. High has thrown for 4,314 yards and 48 touchdowns with seven interceptions on the season.

High is a cut above, but Witten said the Cyclones won't be flying blind against him. The Cyclones have faced another quarterback capable of doing major damage through the air.

“From an all-around standpoint, (Science Hill's) Reed Hayes probably comes as close as anybody we've seen,” said Witten. “Reed has skills. But from an experience standpoint, High can hit any route on the field. At any point in the game, he can really burn you.”

What makes High so good?

“I think the biggest thing is his decisiveness,” said CAK head coach Rusty Bradley. “He's unbelievably decisive. He gets the ball out of his hand with a quick delivery and he's fearless. He thinks he can make every throw whether he can or not.

“He's unbelievably competitive and loves having the ball in his hands to make a decision that impacts whether we win or lose. And the other thing that makes him special is his ability to move in the pocket. He does a phenomenal job when he's moving, keeping his eyes down the field.”

It's not all about High. CAK boasts three very good receivers in Davis Howell, Franklin Murchison, and University of Tennessee commitment Josh Smith. Howell has 113 catches this season for 1,589 yards and 18 touchdowns. He needs 16 grabs to set an all-time national record for career receptions.

Murchison has hauled in 70 balls while Smith, who missed some time with an injury, has 51 receptions.

“They spread the ball around,” said Witten. “And they do have a good running game because people are so worried about the pass.”

Corey Rathbone leads the rushing attack with 1,139 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns.

Elizabethton will counter with running backs Ethan Thomas (1,899) and Terrence Turner (1,004), who have combined for 2,903 yards rushing this season.

Bradley said it doesn't really matter how a successful offense gets things done.

“I think what you do is irrelevant as long as you execute and you are good at what you do,” said Bradley. “Elizabethton does a good job executing. Even though we are different in styles, executing is really what offense is about.”

To beat the Warriors, Elizabethton will have to run the ball effectively.

“I know (CAK) has been really working to stop our running game,” said Witten. “We've been able to establish the line of scrimmage and keep people off balance. We've got to do a good job. Sometimes your best defense is your best offense.

“We've got to keep them off the field and minimize possessions. We know we can't get in a shootout with them. Fortunately for us, we've been able to do what we do. That's why we are where we are. That's why we've won 11 straight.”

Another key for Elizabethton will be getting pressure on High.

“We've got to take chances and put pressure on them,” said Witten. “If we give him all day, they will find open holes.”

Witten said the Cyclones need to approach this game as their turn to win. They've been to the semifinals five times before, and lost all five.

“That's what Greeneville did,” said Witten. “They knocked the door down. With the way we've been able to run the football and play a physical style of football, there's no reason we shouldn't come in with a ton of confidence.”

Notes: Elizabethton is 10-4 in the playoffs under Witten. This is the third time they've reached the semifinals in the last four years. ...

The Cyclones have played CAK twice with the Warriors winning both, 14-13 in 2009 at Elizabethton and 34-14 in 2010 in Knoxville. Both were regular season contests.

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