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GREENEVILLE — Although it didn’t really slow down Ethan Thomas, Greeneville was dominant in every other phase of the game.
The Greene Devils burst out to a four-touchdown lead and eventually evoked the mercy rule on Elizabethton before settling for a 49-20 victory in the second round of the TSSAA Class 4A playoffs Friday night at Burley Stadium.
“Greeneville is good,” said Cyclones’ head coach Shawn Witten. “We just ran into a better team.”
Remaining undefeated at 12-0, the No. 2-ranked Greene Devils moved into a quarterfinal showdown against No. 1-ranked Knox Fulton, which survived a scare from Sullivan South before winning 41-19.
For the Cyclones, it was a season-ender as they saw a nine-game winning streak snapped and finished with a record of 10-2.
Elizabethton got what it needed from Thomas, who finished with 32 carries for 187 yards. He ended his junior season with 4,273 career yards.
Thomas also completed a 45-yard pass to account for 232 of Elizabethton’s 276 total yards.
“Thomas is a warrior,” said Greeneville head coach Caine Ballard. “Even though they were down by a lot of points, he showed character and toughness.”
Elizabethton was behind 28-0 before Thomas had much of a chance to make an impact. A bad snap on a punt attempt gave Greeneville its initial possession at the Cyclones’ 35, and five plays later Quan Wilson scooted in from nine yards out.
Trevor Wright picked off Caleb Bailey’s pass on the next possession, and seven plays later Zack Finchum scored from 1-yard out to make it 14-0.
After an Elizabethton punt, Greeneville went 68 yards in nine plays with Nic Wright’s 7-yard run making it 21-0.
Another Cyclones’ punt was followed by a four-play 53-yard drive, capped off by Wright’s second touchdown run and the Cyclones were facing a deficit they hadn’t seen all season.
They did show a glimmer of hope by moving Thomas into the wildcat formation. He ripped off a 50-yard run to kick-start a nine-play drive. Thomas carried seven times on the drive, but Caleb Jones scored from six yards out to make it 28-7.
With just 2:02 left before halftime, Greeneville went to an air attack. The Greene Devils moved the ball to Elizabethton’s 12, and seemingly had to settle for a field goal attempt.
However, they faked the kick and Finchum hit Caleb Ellenburg for a 12-yard score to give the Greene Devils a 35-7 halftime edge.
Finchum finished 9-of-16 passing for 128 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed 12 times for 80 yards.
Wilson led the Greene Devils with 95 yards rushing on 10 carries. Hays Culbreth, who scored from 62 yards out on a fake-punt run, finished with 133 yards of total offense. He had four catches for 71 yards, including a 37-yard scoring grab despite what looked like blanket coverage by the defensive back.
Culbreth suffered the loss of his father last week because of a heart attack.
“What a game Hays had tonight,” said Ballard. “It was an awesome performance.”
Elizabethton’s tacked on two fourth-quarter scores, the first coming on Bailey’s high lob pass to Isaiah Clark from 15 yards out. The other was a 1-yard sneak by Bailey after Thomas’ completion to Clark put the ball one foot away from the goal line.
It was still a very good season for the Cyclones despite missing out on a chance to reach the quarterfinals for the fourth time in five years. This was their first season in Class 4A after spending several years in 3A.
“Our kids gave effort all year,” said Witten. “We faced challenges and adversity, and we were a half-yard away from an undefeated regular season.
“We won another conference championship, and the win over Sullivan South was a signature win.”
As for the Greene Devils, they can finally focus on Fulton.
“Everybody has been talking about it,” said Ballard. “We’re going to go down there and take every bullet we’ve got.”