Elizabethton and Sullivan North have gone as far as they can go without settling the issue.
Tonight at Rider Field is their final showdown for 2012.
The Three Rivers Conference football rivals will meet in the TSSAA Class 3A state quarterfinals. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“It’s going to be a great high school football game,” said Cyclones’ head coach Shawn Witten. “It’s the only game in the area, so I hope people come out and pack the stadium.”
In other quarterfinal battles, Dobyns-Bennett visits Maryville in a battle of Class 6A unbeatens. And in Class 5A, Tennessee High tries for an upset threepeat when it travels to play Knox Powell.
Elizabethton enters with a record of 10-2 and is rolling along with a 10-game winning streak. Included in that stretch was a 23-21 win over Sullivan North, which was the Raiders’ only loss in 12 games.
“North whipped us in 2011, but the way we played them the first time this year showed we are still the team to beat,” said Witten.
North runs a wing-T offense, which can be difficult to defend. However, Witten said it’s not the only concern for his team.
“It’s not just going against the wing-T, it’s the other things they do,” said Witten. “They have trick plays, or they fake a run and then throw it deep, or they run reverses, or do onside kicks.”
But Witten said the focus will still be on stopping the running game, where North has racked up 3,735 yards rushing on the season. Running back Kairi Thompson leads the way with 1,141 yards and 18 total touchdowns — including four kick returns and a defensive score.
“We’ve got to get them out of what they want to do,” said Witten. “And when we get them stopped and they go to a spread offense, we can’t let them make a play.”
Quarterback Cory Rowe has rushed for 916 yards and 14 touchdowns while throwing for 505 yards and seven scores. Running back Jacob Jasper added 708 yards and eight touchdowns.
Elizabethton counters with running backs Ethan Thomas, Terrence Turner, Zach Moore and emerging quarterback Caleb Bailey. They have helped the Cyclones rack up 3,710 yards rushing this season.
Thomas leads with 1,642 yards and 14 touchdowns. Turner adds 886 yards and 11 scores while Moore has 496 yards and six touchdowns. Bailey chips in with 399 yards and six touchdowns with 260 yards coming in the last five weeks.
“Running the ball is one area where both teams are so evenly matched,” said Witten. “Both teams have great backs. It’s going to come down to the key plays.”
One thing North won’t have this time around is standout linebacker and tight end Chase Arnold, who left the team a few weeks ago. Arnold led the Raiders with 12 catches for 189 yards and four touchdowns, and was a key performer on the defensive side.
“He made a lot of big plays on defense, and he was a force,” said Witten. “He was a big-time player, and any time you take away a big-time player for a third-round playoff game, it’s a big loss.”
Special teams could be a big part of the story. Any momentum shift could be critical.
Witten said he hopes home-field advantage will work well for the Cyclones.
“Being at home, we’ve got a lot of momentum,” said Witten. “We’ve done a good job protecting our home field.”
Elizabethton and North have met in the playoffs just one time, with the Cyclones winning 37-0 in 2009. Elizabethton has won six of the last eight meetings between the schools.
Dobyns-Bennett (12-0) at Maryville (12-0) — Comparison scores usually don’t mean much, but any mental edge the Indians can get is a bonus.
D-B and Maryville both played Knox Farragut and Knox Bearden, and the Indians had wider margins of victory over both. They won 42-14 against Farragut and 35-7 against Bearden while Maryville won 60-41 and 21-3, respectively.
Head to head, D-B has faced Maryville just one time in recent history. The Indians lost 41-0 the Rebels in 2009, but that was a D-B team that limped into the playoffs and finished with a record of 5-6. The previous meeting was in 1945, where the Indians won 32-7.
To win, D-B will either need to approach its season average of 51 points per game, or come up with a one of its best defensive efforts of the season against a Maryville team averaging 43 points per game.
Tennessee High (8-4) at Knox Powell (11-1) — Coming off a 331-yard passing effort in a second-round win over Morristown West, Vikings’ quarterback Peyton Henley will try to engineer a third straight playoff upset.
Tennessee High made a 51-point reversal of a regular season game against Daniel Boone in the first round, and the stunned Morristown West last week with 23 unanswered second-half points.
Powell made it to the state finals last year, and is 11-1 this year behind a defense that has allowed less than 20 points nine times in 12 games.