Because of an explosive offense, Elizabethton’s defense might get lost in the discussion at times.
However, the Cyclones’ defenders are speaking loudly enough to be heard.
In four games this season, Elizabethton has allowed just 30 points. And 27 of them came in one game against Science Hill’s talented group of skill players.
In the other three games, the Cyclones have given three points and posted two shutouts — including Friday night’s 35-0 blitzing of Waynesville (N.C.) Tuscola.
The defense not only shut down the Mountaineers’ offense, it provided two scores of its own on interception returns by defensive back Chad Pritchard. One went for 77 yards and the other for 56.
“Chad is a senior and he’s a smart football player,” said Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten. “He’s always in the right place at the right time. He makes catches, makes adjustments and also makes tackles.”
Pritchard had three picks in the game, feasting on an offense that was forced to the air by Elizabethton’s run-stuffing defensive line.
Witten said improvements against the run have made a big difference for the Cyclones, who are 3-1 on the season.
“At times in the past, we struggled when teams would go right at us,” said Witten. “We challenged the guys to be more physical at the point of attack.”
Adam Mullins, Matt Smith, Dustin Phillips and Ian Glover form the heart of the defensive line.
“Adam is a fast physical player,” said Witten. “He’s just a sophomore, but it really starts with him. And Matt is a physical presence.
“Ian and Dustin are physical as well. And if Adam and Matt get double-teamed, it leaves more room for the linebackers.”
Luke Nidiffer and Stephen Holsclaw lead the way among a group of solid linebackers.
“We’ve kept Luke on the defensive side of the ball this year,” said Witten. “He’s a smart player. With Luke and Stephen behind those linemen, it’s tough for teams to try to run the ball.”
The Cyclones can also make plays in the secondary, as evidenced by Pritchard’s effort. Pritchard came within a few yards of a pick-six against Science Hill, and Eric Carter authored a pick-six against Daniel Boone.
Elizabethton’s defense wasn’t the only thing that stood out against Tuscola. The offense did its part with quarterback McKenly Berry hitting on 11 of 16 passes for 137 yards.
Berry hit Zach Treadway for a 19-yard touchdown toss, and also threw a 26-yard scoring pass to Drew Holsclaw.
Fullback Clayton Smith chipped in with a 73-yard touchdown run as the Cyclones demoralized the Mountaineers with big plays.
Witten said the 41-0 win over Happy Valley the previous week was a big springboard for his team.
“We played defense well in that game, and played offense well,” he said. “We were able to run and throw and do the things we wanted to do. It was the spark we needed.”
Next up for the Cyclones is a game that will likely decide the Three Rivers Conference championship. Elizabethton will play host to Sullivan North on Friday night.
The Cyclones will enter as a favorite, but Witten said he respects North.
“When they beat us in 2008, they had speed in the backfield,” said Witten. “And North has some speed this year. With the style of offense they play, that can make it difficult.”