Elizabethton's Ethan Thomas, left, and Happy Valley's Phillip Garland
No matter how good they may be, football is never a game about just a couple of players.
It is still difficult not to put running backs Phillip Garland and Ethan Thomas in the spotlight as Happy Valley plays host to Elizabethton in a Three Rivers Conference showdown tonight. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30.
The Cyclones are led by Thomas’ 998 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns while the Warriors are headed by Garland’s 969 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
In other Three Rivers games, Johnson County is at home to take on Sullivan North while Unicoi County hits the road to meet Sullivan East.
Also in the area spotlight, Daniel Boone plays host to Dobyns-Bennett, and David Crockett visits Sullivan Central in Big Seven Conference contests.
Elizabethton (1-0, 4-1) at Happy Valley (1-1, 3-3) — Thomas was coming off a 2,000-yard season, so his quick start is not a huge surprise. On the other hand, if someone said Garland would be within 29 yards of Thomas at this point in the season — even with an extra game played — it’s likely few people would have believed it.
More of a pound-and-ground type of runner, Garland slashed and dashed his way to 339 yards in last week’s 28-26 win over Abingdon, Va.
“Phillip has always been the kid we rely on to get the tough yards, and occasionally he would break one,” said Warriors’ head coach Larry Shively. “But Friday night it was like watching Tecmo Bowl. The offensive line played well, but on some of his runs it wasn’t as cleanly blocked. He was running over and outrunning people, and they had fast kids and they were scary. He was pulling away. It was amazing to watch.”
Shively caught Garland on the sideline during the game to remind him: “That’s where those heavy squats and stadium steps come in.”
Like Thomas, Garland is a 4.0 student. Both runners are 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds. And like Thomas, Garland is a junior who is already developing a college-football resume.
“He’s a hard worker, and he’s smart,” said Shively. “He has the qualities I would be looking for if I was a college coach. He wants to play in college.”
Cyclones head coach Shawn Witten said Elizabethton knows it must contain Garland.
“It’s just like playing any other good team with a good back,” said Witten. “We’ve faced tons of good backs and good skill guys. It’s just a matter of hunkering down in there and getting to the ball. He’s a power back who runs between the tackles. We’ve got to do a good job gang tackling.”
As for the Cyclones, Shively knows his team will be significantly challenged.
“They really have it going on right now,” said Shively. “They are as good as anybody in East Tennessee, regardless of class.”
One strength for the Cyclones is depth, said Shively.
“I’ve noticed on film coach Witten is not playing a lot of kids both ways,” said Shively. “(Tonight) most of our kids will be out there both ways. That’s where our program is right now.”
But make no mistake, said Shively, Happy Valley is in it to win it.
“I told them Monday I don’t want anybody in the locker room who is not interested in winning the game,” he said. “I don’t want people just trying to compete and keep things close. Elizabethton has good players, and we have good players.”
Dobyns-Bennett (2-0, 3-3) at Daniel Boone (2-0, 3-2) — It’s a great opportunity for the Trailblazers as they are on the verge of taking a major step forward in the Big Seven Conference title chase.
Unfortunately the task at hand is a large one. The Indians had a late shot in each of their losses, and have played a very difficult schedule.
D-B has a strong offense, but it is coming off a three-point performance. That could be a crack in the armor — or the precursor to a storm.
David Crockett (0-2, 3-3) at Sullivan Central (0-2, 3-2) — This is one of the more interesting games of the week.
The Pioneers have moved the football against just about everybody while the Cougars had quite a struggle to pull away in last week’s win over Sullivan East.
Defense appears to favor the Cougars while the Pioneers appear to have the stronger offense.
Sullivan North (2-0, 4-2) at Johnson County (0-1, 2-3) — Both teams rely on powerful ground games, but the Longhorns like to put it in the air a little more often.
This could be a quick game with both teams churning the clock. North is a strong favorite, but if Johnson County can avoid turnovers and keep it close it may have a shot at the upset.
Unicoi County (0-2, 1-4) at Sullivan East (0-2, 1-5) — Things have gone south since a season-opening win for the Blue Devils, but this is a game they have a shot at winning.
Outside of a 31-0 victory, East has scored just 23 points in five other games. Outside of a 68-0 beat-down by Sullivan South last week, the Blue Devils have averaged 28 points per game.
Hampton (1-0, 2-3) at North Greene (1-1, 1-4) — Despite a rough go of things so far, the Bulldogs are still in solid shape in Mountain East Conference play. And they enter this game as a strong favorite.
Grainger (2-0, 3-2) at Greeneville (2-0, 5-0) — The Greene Devils still haven’t surrendered a single point with their first-team defense, and enter this game as a heavy favorite.
Greeneville quarterback Zack Finchum has totaled 1,355 yards of offense this season and has accounted for 19 touchdowns — including 15 passing.