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One week after pulling off a late-game comeback to defeat pass-minded Sullivan South, Elizabethton opens the playoffs with another air challenge.
In the opening round of the TSSAA Class 4A postseason tonight, the Cyclones will play host to Huntsville Scott. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 o'clock, 30 minutes earlier than the regular season start time.
Elizabethton enters with a record of 9-1 while the Highlanders are 7-3.
In other Class 4A playoff games in Quadrant 1, Unicoi County travels to play No. 1-ranked Knox Fulton, Knox Carter visits Sullivan South, and Greeneville plays host to Grainger.
Scott features quarterback Jacob Phillips, who leads the spread attack. He has passed for over 1,000 yards on the season despite losing top wideout Mark Karluah to an ACL injury.
“They are very good at the skill positions,” said Cyclones' head coach Shawn Witten. “They have two really good receivers and a quarterback who is a dual threat.”
Playing in a tough league that includes Alcoa, Christian Academy of Knoxville and Knox Catholic, the Highlanders were just 1-3 in league play — and earned their only win by just two points, 14-12 over Kingston.
However, Scott won every other game it played and earned its first seven-win regular season since 1999. Scott won eight games that season, setting a school record for wins.
The school was formed in 1971 through the consolidation of Robbins, Norma and Huntsville high schools.
“I think they are having one of their better seasons they've had in quite some time,” said Witten. “They are very balanced and do a good job running and throwing. They really have some big linemen.
“I think we can do a good enough job stopping the run, but I think it will be another test for our secondary to stop the pass. They throw the ball vertical quite a bit, and do a good job making big plays.”
Witten said the Highlanders use a lot of draw plays, and utilize the tight end well.
“They use a lot of formations,” said Witten. “They really try to get you out of place on defense.”
It has certainly been a turnaround season for Scott, which was 1-9 in 2012.
“It goes back to the preseason last fall, when these young men bought in and sold out,” said Scott head coach Keith Shannon. “They are all in. They worked hard and dedicated themselves.
“First and foremost, we're just excited to be in the playoffs and looking forward to the opportunity to play the No. 3 team in the state.”
Elizabethton will counter Scott's attack with a pounding ground game that has produced 3,218 yards rushing in 10 games. Leading the way is Ethan Thomas, a junior who is closing in on 4,000 career rushing yards.
“I think we've got to do a good job of getting off to a good start, and really get the running backs going,” said Witten. “We need to put together a lot of good drives, but also see if we can have some big plays. We've got to avoid early mistakes.”
Witten said he's counting on playoff experience to help the Cyclones, who are 10-5 in the playoffs under his guidance.
“I think we have to really rally around our experience of being in the playoffs,” said Witten. “We've been able to play in a lot of big football games.”
Unicoi County (4-6) at Knox Fulton (10-0) — Even with a running back like Luke Fronckoski, who leads all of Northeast Tennessee in rushing, the Blue Devils will be hard-pressed to deal with the Falcons in any facet of the game.
Some folks have said this Fulton team rivals some of the great Alcoa squads with a rock-solid player at every position.
So Fronckoski may not be able to add a lot to his 1,602 yards and 17 touchdowns. Fulton has allowed just 57 points all season. Just scoring a point would probably be an upset for Unicoi against a team boasting six shutouts.
Carter (9-1) at Sullivan South (9-1) — Imagine being 9-0 on the season and then getting beaten 69-0 in game No. 10.
That's what happened to Hornets last week against Fulton, and they will have to shake it off quick to have a chance against the Rebels.
South quarterback Dylan Wieger has accounted for 34 touchdowns, including 26 scoring strikes. He has passed for 1,854 yards.
Grainger (4-6) at Greeneville (10-0) — It was 70-7 when these teams met in the regular season, so the mercy rule will likely be applied once again.
It's important for Greeneville to stay sharp, building toward a potential pair of challenges ahead.