ELIZABETHTON — Complementing a dominant ground game with air support, Elizabethton gave Happy Valley no chance.
Ethan Thomas rushed for 184 yards and a pair of touchdowns while Caleb Bailey connected on a pair of scoring strikes to pace the Cyclones to a 40-0 thumping of the Warriors in the Three Rivers Conference season opener Friday night at Rider Field.
It was the first win of the season for the Cyclones (1-2) while the Warriors fell to 1-2.
“It was an impressive win,” said Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten. “We hadn't played well against Happy Valley at home.”
Thomas was a big reason why things changed. He carried 26 times, and Happy Valley had to expend a lot of energy to bring him to the ground.
“I couldn't do it without Jesus,” said Thomas. “And the second thing was the offensive line. They were amazing. They blocked extremely well.”
Witten agreed with Thomas' assessment.
“It starts up front,” said Witten. “And Ethan just plays one side of the football, so he's always fresh. He gets better as the game goes along. He gets tough yards, yards after contact, helps ball control, and gets down and distance in our favor.”
Thomas wasn't the only effective runner. Terrence Turner, who has been dealing with a hamstring issue, got his first extensive running back work of the season. He finished with 10 carries for 68 yards and a touchdown.
The 316 total yards rushing was the thrust of the Cyclones' attack. But Bailey probably provided the biggest play of the game.
He authored a first-half touchdown pass, a sweet throw from 24 yards out. Zach Moore out-leaped the defender to reel it in, giving Elizabethton a 10-0 lead with 5:59 left before halftime.
By game's end, Bailey was 7 of 9 for 86 yards.
“People start loading up the box, and we can go vertical,” said Witten.
Bailey's second touchdown toss was also right on target, hitting Markus Olds in stride from 35 yards out in the third quarter.
Another story of the game was the Elizabethton defense. The Cyclones limited Happy Valley to 108 total yards, including 28 yards on 19 rushing attempts.
“As long as our defense plays good, we will win a lot of football games,” said Witten. “And it starts with our run defense.”
Happy Valley head coach Larry Shively said he was disappointed with his team's offense.
“Our offense was so inept,” said Shively. “Any time we throw 12 to 15 times, we're not very good. We have to be able to run the football.”
Happy Valley quarterback Colton Haun had his moments. He was 6 of 13 for 80 yards passing, and rushed for 42 yards. But he also threw two interceptions, one of them to Olds in the end zone on Happy Valley's best scoring threat of the game.
Elizabethton started the game with a 13-play power football drive. However, after a first-and-goal at the 9, the Cyclones had to settle for a 27-yard field goal by sophomore Logan Birchfield.
On the final drive of the first half, the Cyclones appeared to be in a trouble spot. After a 6-yard gain to the 11-yard line for a fourth-and-one situation, a penalty would have pushed the ball back to the 22 for third down with just 19.1 seconds left on the clock.
However, Happy Valley declined the penalty. Elizabethton got a 2-yard quarterback sneak for a first down and spiked the ball. Eventually, Birchfield ended the first half by drilling a 31-yard field goal as time expired, sending the Cyclones to the locker room with a 13-0 edge.
“Those two field goals by Logan were big,” said Witten. “If we don't score some points on those drives, it's a different game.”
Happy Valley got the ball to start the second half, but fumbled on the first play. Two plays later, Thomas rambled in from five yards out to push the Cyclones out to a 20-0 advantage.
“We're not good enough to overcome silly mistakes,” said Shively. “We've got to take care of the football.”
Elizabethton completely put the game away in the third quarter when Bailey threw the strike to Olds to make it 27-0. The Cyclones struck in the fourth quarter, getting a 7-yard scoring run by Turner.
After an interception by Eric Carter, Thomas fumbled a pitch from Bailey and picked it up 11 yards behind the line of scrimmage at Happy Valley's 30. He was immediately hit by several Happy Valley defenders, but nobody brought him to the ground. Thomas finished off the run by bulling into the end zone to finish off the scoring.
Trey Perkins led Happy Valley with 10 tackles.