ELIZABETHTON — It certainly seemed like the right decision when Elizabethton went for a 2-point conversion in overtime.
But things didn’t go very well on the execution.
Lining up with Terrence Turner in the wildcat formation, for the first time season, the Cyclones’ running back slipped after taking the snap and was tackled by a sea of Sullivan South defenders five yards short of the end zone — giving the Rebels a thrilling 28-27 win at Rider Field on Friday night.
“Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but you’ve got to make a decision and that’s what the head coach is for,” said Cyclones’ head coach Shawn Witten. “It falls back on me.”
It was the second straight overtime win for South (3-3) while the Cyclones fell to 3-3 with their second straight loss.
Elizabethton had a chance to win at the end of regulation, but place-kicker Logan Birchfield was well short on a 44-yard field goal attempt. That sent the contest into overtime, and South — which had pounded Elizabethton’s defense with power running plays throughout the night — got a quick score on quarterback Jake Weaver’s 10-yard run.
The Cyclones ran into the kicker on Taylor Moore’s extra point, but answered South’s score quickly with McKenly Berry hitting Chad Pritchard with a 15-yard scoring pass.
Elizabethton started to kick the tying extra point, but called timeout and put the ball in the hands of Turner — who had gained 156 yards on 25 carries. However, the wildcat formation put Berry on the bench and pretty much took away any threat of a pass.
“McKenly played a good game and made some real good throws, but this was something we had been working on,” said Witten. “We thought we had something. You just live or die with the decision. We just didn’t execute, and didn’t get it done.”
South head coach Sam Haynie called timeout when he saw the formation.
“We felt they would put it in No. 7’s hands,” said Haynie. “We just tried to gang tackle him. The defensive line penetrated, the linebackers filled the gaps, and it was just a heck of a play.”
The contest probably shouldn’t have come down to one play. Elizabethton led 21-7 midway through the third quarter, but two key plays changed the course of the game.
First, South receiver A.J. Hutchins got about 10 yards behind the Elizabethton secondary shortly after the Cyclones had taken the 14-point lead. Weaver hit him with a 66-yard scoring strike to swing the momentum.
Still trailing by seven points with just under three minutes left in regulation, South faced a fourth-and-16 from Elizabethton’s 35. Charlie Moore hit Mitchell Crowe for 18 yards, and South tied the game three plays later.
“That was a big play to keep the chains moving,” said Haynie.
Elizabethton got the ball at its 35 when South sent the kickoff out of bounds. The Cyclones drove 10 plays down to South’s 27-yard line, calling a timeout with 4.7 seconds remaining.
Birchfield, the Cyclones’ long-distance place-kicker, was called onto the field for his first field goal attempt of the season. The freshman made two extra points early in the game because regular kicker Christine Hardin was late arriving because of a game in a girls’ soccer tournament.
Birchfield’s line-drive attempt only made it halfway into the end zone for what should have been a dead ball. South returned the missed kick, and for some reason the officials did not blow the play dead until a tackle was made 30 yards up the field.
The game started nicely for Elizabethton. Turner scored on the Cyclones’ first possession, an impressive 61-yard rip that was a hint of things to come as the Rebels struggled to really keep him in check all night.
Berry added a 1-yard scoring run to make it 14-0 before Weaver answered with a 2-yard run to cut it to 14-7 early in the second quarter. Elizabethton’s Zach Moore fumbled in South territory late in the second quarter, and the Rebels’ last-minute drive came up 20 yards short of the end zone.
The Cyclones went ahead 21-7 when Berry fired a low strike to Drew Holsclaw, who made a diving catch in the end zone for a six-yard score midway through the third quarter.
Berry finished 7 of 16 passing for 111 yards.
Weaver led South with 21 carries for 90 yards.