ELIZABETHTON — Surprisingly, this was no contest.
Elizabethton dominated from start to finish, both sides of the line of scrimmage, and from goal to goal. The Cyclones pounded Gatlinburg-Pittman 38-0 in the second round of the TSSAA Class 3A football playoffs Friday night at Rider Field.
It was the 10th straight win for the Cyclones (10-2) and moved them into the state quarterfinals for third time in four years.
“By what we've done, we are leaving a legacy,” said Cyclones' head coach Shawn Witten, whose team has won nine of its last 12 playoff games. “We were 0-2, but we've come back and won 10 straight. And our schedule was still tough after those two losses.”
Elizabethton will meet Sullivan North (11-1) next Friday in a rematch of a Week 4 showdown where the Cyclones pulled out a 23-21 decision with a late field goal. North earned its spot with a 35-7 slap-down of West Greene.
As good as Elizabethton's ground game was — 326 yards on 52 carries — the defensive was equally impressive. The Cyclones limited Pittman to 25 yards on 25 rushing attempts, forced four punts, and came away with two fumble recoveries.
Eleven of Pittman's 42 plays either had no gain or lost yardage.
“Our coaches helped us out a lot,” said Cyclones' linebacker Jacob Woodby. “They went over everything (the Highlanders) did. The coaches trained us really well this week.”
Said Witten, “We know if our defense is playing well, we have a good chance of moving on in the playoffs.”
Offensively, Elizabethton wasted no time in establishing the line of scrimmage. The Cyclones went nine plays and 67 yards, all on the ground, for a 7-0 lead after Ethan Thomas' 4-yard scoring run.
After a Pittman punt, the Cyclones stayed on the ground for an 11-play, 86-yard drive that was capped off by quarterback Caleb Bailey's 1-yard touchdown run.
As Elizabethton was building its lead, the defense continued to build a case it has stated all season. The Cyclones stuffed Pittman's big back, Michael Muszik, on a fourth-and-one at the Elizabethton 34.
Cyclones linebacker Luke Blanton said confidence is high for the Cyclones.
“We're definitely grateful to God, and we play as hard as we can,” said Blanton. “The defensive line is playing great, and we feel like nothing can stop us.”
Ten plays later, Bailey fumbled a snap but picked it up and scored from three yards out to make it 21-0.
Pittman punted on its next possession, and the Cyclones got a late strike before halftime. After an 11-yard pass from Bailey to Zach Moore got the ball to the Pittman 13-yard line with 17 seconds left, Elizabethton — out of timeouts — rushed the field goal unit onto the field.
The ball was snapped with about three seconds left, and place-kicker Christine Hardin drilled a 30-yarder to make it 24-0 at the break.
Witten and the players celebrated the kick as it showed the special teams could make a big play under pressure.
“We've been talking about those situations: overtime, fast field goal, killing the clock,” said Witten. “We try to work on those things on Thursdays. It was a great heads-up on the kids' part, and definitely heads up for Christine.
“It was on the far hash, and just great execution and great poise for the kids. And it was a big momentum shift before halftime.”
Pittman seemed to finally get some momentum on its first drive of the second half. However, Muszik fumbled in Elizabethton territory to end the threat.
Late in the third quarter, Moore made a diving reception at the Pittman 1-yard line for a 26-yard gain. On the next play, Moore dove into the end zone for a 31-0 lead.
The Highlanders (7-5) threatened again in the fourth quarter, but were stopped on downs at Elizabethton's 32.
The Cyclones tacked on a final score on Christian Glover's 6-yard run.
Besides the field goal, Hardin was 5 of 5 on extra-point attempts. That makes her 19 for 19 in the Cyclones' last three games.
Thomas led the Cyclones with 134 yards on 18 carries, his 11th 100-yard rushing effort of the season. Bailey added 88 yards on 15 carries for one of his biggest games of the season.
“When the defense keys on the running backs, it leaves Bailey wide open,” said Witten. “We've got something special.”
Terrence Turner totaled 70 yards on 12 carries.
Muszik led Pittman with 52 yards on 16 carries. Quarterback Tanner Cox was 9 of 17 for 142 yards.