ERWIN — There wasn’t much for Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten to dislike about his team’s first-half performance.
The Cyclones outgained Unicoi County 336 to minus-27, and eventually worked their way to a 42-8 victory Friday night at Gentry Stadium.
“Playing good run defense and running the football will win a lot of games,” said Witten. “It has been our identity all year.”
Elizabethton improved to 3-0 in the Three Rivers Conference and 6-2 overall while Unicoi fell to 1-2, 3-4.
By the end of the game, Elizabethton had three running backs near the 100-yard mark. Ethan Thomas led the way with 106 yards on 17 carries while Zach Moore added 104 yards on 10 attempts. Terrence Turner didn’t play in the second half because of a head injury, and finished with 97 yards on 10 carries.
Obviously the offensive line was doing its part to create a dominant rushing attack. The Cyclones finished with 360 yards on 49 attempts.
“I’m honestly speechless about our offensive line,” said Moore. “They work so hard. They go in after practice and lift weights. They do extra conditioning, and they stay after practice.”
Of course, it wasn’t all about the offense. The defense was simply dominant. Unicoi’s first-half offensive plays resulted in five positive gains (1, 3, 1, 5 and 4 yards), seven plays for no gain, and eight plays resulting in losses (3, 3, 2, 3, 21, 5, 1, and 3 yards). The Blue Devils did not get a first down in the first half.
“Our defense is what we’re excited about,” said Moore. “We enjoy offense, but everybody likes to hit people on defense. At the start of the game we would rather be on defense than receiving the ball.”
Elizabethton wasted little time establishing the line of scrimmage, using seven running plays on the game’s opening possession to go 59 yards for a 7-0 lead. Turner capped it off with a 2-yard scoring run.
Later in the first quarter, Thomas pounded in from one yard out to make it 14-0. In the second quarter, Thomas broke out to the sideline and rambled into the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown.
Unicoi then attempted a punt, but the snap was low and then bobbled. The ball was picked up and then fumbled, and Christian Glover scooped up the loose ball and raced 15 yards to make it 28-0. It was Glover’s second consecutive game with a defensive score.
The Cyclones capped off the half with an 11-play drive in 1:31 that covered 63 yards. Elizabethton worked its two-minute drill very well, and Bailey scored on a quarterback sneak from one yard out as time expired.
The Cyclones ran the ball five times, completed three passes, and spiked the ball three times. They also overcame a 15-yard penalty.
“It’s something you don’t get to work on in games very often,” said Witten. “It was a little chaotic, but still efficient.”
The clock ran continuously in the second half, and the Cyclones added a touchdown on Moore’s 28-yard run.
Overall, Elizabethton just looked like a veteran team that wanted to take care of business.
“The leadership has been absolutely amazing,” said Moore. “It’s not just one leader, but the entire senior class. We started 0-2 after talking about what a great season we could have. Since that Science Hill loss, we’ve worked our butts off.”
Elizabethton quarterback Caleb Bailey was almost a part of the 100-yard club, rushing for 56 yards and passing for 31.
Unicoi finally got things rolling on offense in the fourth quarter. A 10-play drive was capped off by Hunter Abbott’s 11-yard scoring run. Lucas Hensley hit Zach Beard for the 2-point conversion.
Abbott ran hard throughout the game, and finally got into positive yardage. After carrying nine times for minus-seven yards in the first half, he finished with 57 yards on 17 carries.