ELIZABETHTON — Ethan Thomas has spent plenty of time deflecting credit to his offensive lineman.
Friday night against Sullivan North, the big guys up front gave good evidence their star running back knows what he's talking about. With Thomas on the sideline because of injury, the Cyclones blocked their way to a 51-23 victory over Sullivan North in a Three Rivers Conference game at Rider Field.
The Cyclones improved to 3-0 in league play and 6-1 overall while the Raiders fell to 3-1, 5-3.
Without Thomas and his 1,165 yards and 13 touchdowns, the Cyclones still rushed for 280 yards on 35 carries, and the pass protection was close to perfect.
“We just came out and did the same things we always do,” said Andrew Byers, a 6-1, 275-pound senior. “We just opened up holes and got the job done. It doesn't matter who is running as long as they get their yards.”
Tyler Hubbard, another 6-1, 275-pound senior said the offensive line was working well together.
“It was probably one of our better blocking games,” said Hubbard. “We got a little more movement up front.”
Cyclones head coach Shawn Witten said the line makes things work for a ground-based offense.
“People know we run the ball, but our offensive line continues to be a strong part of the football team,” said Witten.
Elizabethton divided up the rushing chores. Running backs Christian Glover (10 carries, 75 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Jeremiah Turner (9 for 74) shared the load with quarterbacks Caleb Bailey (8 for 69) and Caleb Armstrong (5 for 46).
The passing game also continued to shine. Bailey and Armstrong combined to hit on 8 of 10 passes for 122 yards. Bailey totaled 95 yards and two touchdowns, including a sweet 45-yard scoring toss to Markus Olds.
Elizabethton jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead on a 15-yard scoring pass from Bailey to Brandon Lynch, and a 4-yard touchdown run by Glover.
However, North got back in business late in the second quarter. Bryson Salyers booted a 24-yard field goal, and then North's Kody Goins ripped the ball out of Glover's hands on the ensuing kickoff and returned it deep into Cyclones' territory.
Goins' 3-yard TD run and a 2-point conversion pass from Nick Copas to Jonathan Green made it 14-11 with just 1:48 left before halftime.
The Cyclones didn't allow it to last. They got a 38-yard kickoff return from Armstrong, and then three straight runs from the junior to North's 4-yard line. Turner's 4-yard touchdown run made it 21-11.
Elizabethton used its timeouts on North's next possession, and the Raiders decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 at its own 49 with just 30 seconds left before halftime.
An incomplete pass gave the ball back to Elizabethton, and the Cyclones got to North's 16 on three plays. As time expired, Logan Birchfield booted a 33-yard field goal to make it 24-11 at the break.
The Raiders answered the bell in the third quarter as Copas raced 44 yards for a touchdown. However, the Cyclones buzzed back down the field, scoring on Bailey's toss to Olds.
“Bailey is like a coach on the field,” said Witten. “In two years, we've only lost two games with him starting at quarterback. He knows what the defense is doing, and he called two plays and got a good run and that pass.”
The Cyclones ended any doubt on Glover's 35-yard scoring dash. Glover added a 12-yard touchdown run, and Bailey finished the scoring by going 33 yards on a quarterback sneak.
Jacob Jasper entered the game with 838 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns, but he was held to 55 yards on 17 carries and did not reach the end zone.
Copas led North with 72 yards on seven carries.