It is still the toughest combination in football: run the ball and play good defense.
Elizabethton is mastering both, and the wins are piling up.
After an 0-2 start, the Cyclones won their fourth straight game Friday night. It was a 21-7 decision where Elizabethton held Sullivan South 29 points below its average.
A punishing, methodical ground attack is not a typical Cyclones’ offense, but it is working.
“It’s not our philosophy at Elizabethton,” said head coach Shawn Witten. “We want to play fast, use our quickness and get our skill kids on the edge. But you do whatever it takes to win, and right now we’re winning by running the football and stopping the run. Last night was only the fourth rushing touchdown we’ve given up all season.”
Along with the consistently productive ground game — Ethan Thomas (118 yards) had his sixth straight 100-yard effort — the defense put together another sparkling effort. The Cyclones have given up just 28 total points in their last four games.
Defensive coordinator Stan Ogg said the success is a combination of several things.
“The coaches have done a great job of getting the players in position, and the kids are making plays,” said Ogg. “The last couple of weeks we’ve given up some yardage, but we’ve made stops when we had to. We’ve had three fourth-down stops in the last two weeks, and those came at the end of some pretty good drives. The kids are buying into it, and they are getting things done.”
South hurt the Cyclones early with quarterback draws from Charlie Moore. However, Elizabethton adjusted and Moore never was able to get the passing game rolling.
The Rebels entered with an average of 254 yards passing per game, but managed only 64. Moore had 11 touchdown passes coming in, but was shut out by the Cyclones.
“It’s real tough to defend the passing game,” said Ogg. “You try to make people one-dimensional, and it makes things a little easier. They had thrown for all those yards, so we were worried.”
South actually went away from its normal attack and settled into a power running game in the second half.
“That was kind of ‘Old South,’ ” said Ogg. “They used to spread you out and run the power game. We just didn’t want big plays, and that’s what we tried to eliminate. We had some good stops.”
Included in the stops was an edge blitz by linebacker Thomas Miller. He ran down Moore from the back side for a big sack on a fourth-down play.
“We didn’t blitz a lot,” said Ogg. “We played a lot of zone and combo zone. In that case, (Miller) was free. He’s on the quarterback, so if it’s a pass he goes and gets him.”
Another big defensive stand came on the last play of the first half. With 7.5 seconds left and the ball on Elizabethton’s 14-yard line, the Rebels ditched the field goal attempt and went for seven. Moore completed a pass, but the Cyclones stopped the receiver well short of the goal line as time expired.
“We wanted to defend the goal line,” said Ogg. “We kept them from three points, and from seven points.
“We want to keep our football team in the game. You do that by keeping the other team out of the end zone.”
One thing really helping the Cyclones’ defense is the offense’s ground output. Elizabethton attempted just one pass against South, but gained 264 yards on 46 carries.
“Our offense is doing such a good job staying on the field, so the defense stays fresh,” said Ogg.
Another way the Cyclones’ defenders are staying fresh is the rotation of five defensive linemen. Leading the way in that unit are Ian Glover and Adam Mullins.
“Ian has had a couple of really big games,” said Ogg. “Adam and Ian set the tone up front. It starts up front with those guys.”
Behind that line are players like Luke Blanton and Zach Moore.
“Luke is one of the stronger kids at linebacker, and Zach has really been coming on at safety,” said Ogg. “Terrence Turner and the corners are playing well. It’s has been good all the way around.”
Witten mentioned Eric Carter, Markus Olds, and Jacob Slagle as players making big impacts in defending the passing game. The Cyclones are getting it done with numbers, said Ogg.
“We’re playing about 16-17 kids every night on defense,” he said. “They are all doing a great job. They really are.”
With Watauga, N.C., up next, the Cyclones will close the regular season with three conference contests.
“I think the biggest thing about our kids is they have done a great job of preparation,” said Witten. “The practices have been very focused. The kids understand what we are trying to accomplish each week.
“The guys are really starting to come into their own. I’m really proud of the way our kids have bounced back from an 0-2 start.”