ELIZABETHTON — Still down to earth, Elizabethton had a little more wind in its sails Friday night.
The Cyclones totaled 127 passing yards and three touchdowns from a pair of quarterbacks, and running back Ethan Thomas did his usual damage in a 50-8 whipping of short-footed Happy Valley in a Three Rivers Conference contest.
The Cyclones improved to 2-0 in league play and 5-1 overall while the Warriors, who were without the services of leading rusher Phillip Garland, fell to 1-2, 3-4.
Thomas burst past the 1,000-yard mark for the season, finishing the game with 167 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns. He has 1,165 yards and 13 scores for the season.
But it was the fact Elizabethton was able to get things going through air that made a difference, just one week after failing to complete a pass. This time, senior Caleb Bailey and junior Caleb Armstrong combined to hit on 6 of 9 passes, and each signal-caller found receiver Markus Olds for a long scoring pass.
“We've got a running back, and we know a lot of teams are going for him,” said Olds. “But we have another option. We've got a passing game. Once teams have to focus on that, we can make big plays running or passing.”
Cyclones coach Shawn Witten said the game plan included more emphasis on passing.
“We knew Happy Valley would stack the box, and they are a blitzing team,” said Witten. “So we took some shots.”
The ground-game showdown with Garland never materialized anyway. Garland, who had 969 yards rushing and nine touchdowns coming into the game, could not get cleared to play after suffering a concussion late in the game last week.
“We hoped all week he would be able to go Friday,” said Happy Valley head coach Larry Shively. “He was showing improvement each day, but he still had a headache. We weren't going to take a chance with him.”
Thomas got the Cyclones started on the right foot. On Elizabethton's second possession, he cut outside and powered his way to the end zone for a 35-yard score.
A few minutes later Bailey lofted a high pass to Olds, who out-leaped the defensive back and broke away for a 45-yard touchdown.
“The ball got lost in the lights, and I thought it was short,” said Olds. “I did have to play it like a defensive back a little bit, and I was able to come down with it and get the job done.”
It looked like the Warriors were going to fade away early, but Tyler Marlowe delivered two sweet passes to Ethan Barnett. One was good for 28 yards on third down, and the other was good for 30 yards on fourth down.
The plays set up first-and-goal at the 3-yard line, and freshman Austin Hicks rambled in to make it 14-6. Mookie Madison scored on the 2-point conversion run to cut the Cyclones' lead to six points.
“We were happy on the sideline, but happiness doesn't tackle Ethan Thomas,” said Shively.
Indeed. Elizabethton embarked on an eight-play drive, five of them runs by Thomas, and moved 62 yards to make it 21-8 on Thomas' 1-yard plunge.
After a punt, the Cyclones went to the air again with Armstrong hitting Olds in stride for a 35-yard touchdown. The Cyclones took advantage of a Happy Valley offsides penalty and went for two points to take a 29-8 lead into the locker room.
It might have been closer, but Marlowe's pass to Josh Hammonds from the Cyclones' 36 slipped through his hands as he was crossing the goal line with 25 seconds remaining.
Elizabethton rolled to the finish, getting a 6-yard scoring run from Christian Glover, a 22-yard scoring hookup from Armstrong to Brandon Lynch, and an 11-yard touchdown run from Jeremiah Turner.
Armstrong was 5 of 6 for 72 yards while Bailey was 1 of 3 for 45 yards. Turner added 58 yards rushing on two carries while Glover had 54 on six attempts.
Happy Valley got 58 yards on 19 carries from Hicks. Marlowe finished 5 of 8 for 82 yards.
Elizabethton has a key Three Rivers contest at home against Sullivan North next week while the Warriors have the week off.