Elizabethton and Johnson County have basically traded places.
The Cyclones rely solely on a strong running game while the Longhorns having been airing it out more as the season goes along.
“They’ve gotten a lot better at throwing the ball,” said Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten. “They have guys who can catch it, too, and they are more athletic at the skill positions.”
With the Three Rivers Conference title hanging in the balance, these teams will meet tonight at Rider Field. Kickoff is set for 7:30.
In other Three Rivers contests, Happy Valley plays host to Sullivan North, and Unicoi County is the home team versus Sullivan East.
In the Mountain East Conference, Hampton hits the road to face Unaka, and Cloudland is at North Greene.
As for the Blue Ridge Conference, the highlight game is Chuckey-Doak playing host to Greeneville.
Johnson County head coach Mike Atwood said he’s stressing positive things to his team about the matchup with the Cyclones.
“We had 320 yards against Sullivan North, and feel like we should have won the game,” said Atwood. “And we feel like North should have beaten Elizabethton.”
The Cyclones are a different animal this season. They are more ground-oriented and have a tough and nasty defense that doesn’t give up yards lightly.
“Coach Witten does a great job,” said Atwood. “He likes to coach differently, but he has adjusted to having a different type of team.”
Witten said the different look was just the way the season has played out.
“I don’t think we saw it unfolding this way,” said Witten. “We’re playing smash-mouth and not throwing the ball hardly any. It has worked to our advantage.”
Elizabethton leans on three difficult-to-defend running backs, starting with Ethan Thomas. The powerful sophomore has rushed for over 100 yards in every game this season.
Also in the backfield running mix are Terrence Turner, Zach Moore and quarterback Caleb Bailey.
When Johnson County has the ball, it will try to threaten the Cyclones with power running back Patrick South and improving quarterback Warren Kerley. The sophomore has thrown for a total of over 300 yards in the past two games.
Witten said he believes his team will be focused for the Longhorns.
“I think our kids know the type of mentality Johnson County brings,” he said. “You can see a dramatic difference from last year to this year. Coach Atwood gets those guys ready, and they always play us tough.”
Sullivan North (2-1, 7-1) at Happy Valley (1-2, 2-5) — Coming off its best performance of the season and then getting a week off, the Warriors hope to have their best shot ready for the Raiders.
Finishing drives and scoring points have been issues for the Warriors’ offense, so the defense will need a banner effort against the explosive North offense. The Raiders have rushed for over 2,000 yards on the season.
Sullivan East (0-3, 0-7) at Unicoi County (1-2, 3-4) — Since the playoffs are within reach, the Blue Devils can’t afford to be the victim of East’s first win.
The Patriots have scored only 73 points this season, but did get 20 last week in a loss to Hampton.
Unicoi relies on the strong running of Hunter Abbott, and the all-around threat of receiver/defensive back/kick returner Keith Arrowood.
Hampton (3-0, 6-1) at Unaka (1-2, 1-6) — This should be one of those games where the Bulldogs simply need to execute and take care of business.
Unaka is averaging just six points per game while the ‘Dogs crank it up at 35.6 a contest (excluding the forfeit win over Hancock County).
Cloudland (3-0, 5-2) at North Greene (2-1, 4-4) — This is an interesting matchup, and it has changed from a few weeks ago.
It looked like the Huskies would be a favorite, but they have lost three in a row while the Highlanders are coming off two dominant wins.
North Greene ended a 20-game losing streak in this series with last year’s 6-0 win.
Greeneville (3-0, 4-3) at Chuckey-Doak (2-1, 5-2) — Owning a record of 17-0 in this series, the Greene Devils enter as a major favorite.
In four wins this season, Greeneville has outscored its opponents by a combined margin of 236-21.
Meanwhile, the Black Knights have totaled 137 points in their last three games.
South Greene (0-3, 1-6) at West Greene (1-3, 3-5) — After struggling at the start of the season, the Buffaloes have won three of their last five.
Also, West Greene has won three straight games against its county rival.