BRISTOL — Elizabethton wanted to make a statement, but Ethan Thomas turned it into a lecture.
The Cyclones' junior running back ran through, over and around Tennessee High's defense all night, totaling 312 yards rushing and scoring four touchdowns in an unexpected 35-13 blowout of the Vikings on Friday night at the Stone Castle.
Elizabethton, ranked No. 8 in the state in Class 4A, improved to 4-1 on the season. The Vikings, ranked No. 7 in Class 5A, slipped to 3-2.
“I can't be more proud of our kids,” said Cyclones' head coach Shawn Witten. “They came out and played an almost perfect game.”
Elizabethton finished with 388 yards rushing and dominated the game despite not completing a single pass in six attempts.
Thomas was at the forefront of the picture. He carried 24 times, gaining 180 yards in the first half and 131 more in the third quarter. Thomas appeared for a couple of carries in the fourth quarter to finish off his stellar evening.
“We just executed well,” said Thomas. “We practiced hard for two weeks, and then people came out and did what they were supposed to do.”
Elizabethton got on the board quickly as Tennessee High fumbled on the first play from scrimmage. That led to a six-play, 24-yard drive that was capped off by Thomas' 1-yard scoring run.
After a Tennessee High punt, the Cyclones had a two-yard loss before Thomas took a second-down handoff. He went up the middle, cut toward the sideline, stiff-armed a defender and then seemed to find a gear he hadn't shown all season. Sixty-three yards later he was in the end zone.
“I don't know, I was just like I can't get tackled,” said Thomas with a laugh. “We wanted to set the tone early. I'm so grateful for the line. I wouldn't trade them for anything.”
But this wasn't a story all about Thomas. It was also about a defense that really stepped up its game.
Facing the state's fourth-best scoring offense, the Cyclones stood strong. The Vikings gained 297 yards and sustained two long drives for their scores, but Elizabethton's defense made plenty of big plays.
Leading 14-0, the Cyclones stopped the Vikings on downs at the Elizabethton 6-yard line. Still ahead 14-7 late in the second quarter, the Cyclones' defense made arguably the biggest play of the game.
Vikings' quarterback Peyton Henley passed from his own end zone, but the ball hung up in the air and Markus Olds picked it off and raced 32 yards for a touchdown.
“I saw the ball up in the air, and I thought it would be short and the receiver was behind me,” said Olds. “Then the defensive line blocked and gave me a wall to get in the end zone.”
On the next play from scrimmage, Hunter Hodges picked off a pass. However, Cyclones kicker Logan Birchfield missed a 34-yard field goal attempt.
However, Birchfield was 5 of 5 on extra-point attempts and is 29 for 29 on the season.
The Cyclones started the second half the same way they started the game, running the ball right at the Vikings. A five-play drive was highlighted by Thomas' 48-yard run, and he eventually scored from three yards out.
After the Vikings put together a 17-play drive that was capped by Henley's 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down — his second score of the game — the Cyclones answered with a 56-yard scoring burst by Thomas.
Henley finished with 17 completions in 22 attempts for 117 yards. Most of his passes were short connections as the Vikings rarely challenged the Cyclones with the deep ball.
Receiver Adam Mitchell, coming off a school-record 190 receiving yards and four scores was basically no factor in the game.
“Our defensive line did a great job chasing their quarterback around,” said Witten. “And we did a great job tackling. It was a total effort, and Coach (Stan) Ogg did a great job preparing them.
“There's usually a game on your schedule that can make your season go one way or the other. And tonight we beat a good football team.”